The House will soon consider Representative David McKinley’s (R–WV) Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2218), which would block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from classifying coal combustion residues (also known as coal ash) as a hazardous waste. It would also allow states to create their own regulatory permit programs for coal ash disposal and management.
Coal ash is commonly recycled to make cement, drywall, asphalt, and bricks. It is processed to make plastics lighter and stronger and as filler in wood products. In fact, coal ash was even used to make the concrete in the EPA’s headquarters, which was recently named after former President Bill Clinton. Businesses reuse almost half the coal ash produced annually in electricity generation.
However, the EPA has proposed regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste or as a non-hazardous solid waste. Either federal approach is the wrong one. Congressman McKinley’s legislation would provide some minimum federal standards and require that any structure that receives coal ash have a groundwater monitoring system, but the bill would largely place the authority to regulate coal ash with state governments to protect the environment and protect American jobs.
States would be empowered to create their own permitting program in a way that works for them. H.R. 2218 is consistent with a set of principles The Heritage Foundation laid out in its American Conservation Ethic:
A site- and situation-specific management approach also allows conservation efforts to reflect unique environmental characteristics and variables as well as the needs and desires of local populations. Rigid government mandates and standards lack this flexibility. Additionally, a site- and situation-specific approach is more consistent with policies carried out at lower levels of government.
Whether it’s existing coal-fired plants, building new plants, or coal-mining operations, the EPA’s regulatory trend is unnecessarily driving out coal, driving up energy prices, and driving away jobs in the process. McKinley’s approach is a good first step in reversing that trend by empowering state regulators to protect jobs while promoting environmental well-being.