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This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

Early Saturday morning, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the House budget bill that had nothing to do with trimming the federal deficit but everything to do with sweetening the bottom line of the likes of Duke Energy, AEP, Ameren and Southern Company.

The House passed this amendment at about two in the morning (when few were watching). This amendment, offered by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), would “prohibit the use of funds by EPA to develop, propose, finalize, implement, administer, or enforce any regulation that identifies or lists fossil fuel combustion waste as hazardous waste subject to regulation.” In short, the amendment would tie EPA’s hands on the issue of coal ash in the middle of its ongoing rulemaking. The only avenue left open to EPA by this amendment would be publication of unenforceable “guidelines” that states would have absolutely no obligation to adopt. 

The amendment would prevent EPA from setting enforceable national standards, thus guaranteeing that power plants in the dirtiest coal-burning states, such as Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, would continue to dump ash and sludge in unlined pits and ponds that threaten the communities nearby (and below) their enormous toxic dump sites.

On the House floor, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) justified the hog-tying of EPA by claiming that the agency’s proposed rule for coal ash disposal was an “emotional response” that was  “ideologically motivated.” To this allegation, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) cited facts, not ideology. He pointed out that the proposed EPA rule was in response to a toxic waste spill 100 times the size of the Exxon Valdez, that will cost the utility (and ultimately the American taxpayers and consumers) over $1 billion to clean up. He pointed to evidence that arsenic, hexavalent chromium, selenium, cadmium and other toxic metals readily leach from coal ash and pollute water supplies. 

If he had had more time, the congressman might have mentioned that the rule follows the recommendation of the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, which concluded in 2006 that enforceable federal regulations are required to ensure safe disposal of coal ash. He might have stated that the rulemaking is based upon multiple peer-reviewed studies including EPA’s Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment for Coal Combustion Wastes, several technical reports by EPA’s Office of Research and Development on heavy metal leaching from coal ash, and the opinions of leading scientists and health professionals. 

Congressman McKinley had it backwards. His amendment is all about ideology. It is about an ideology that embraces the absence of regulation as good public policy, even when the cost of laissez-faire waste management to public health and the economy is immense and unjust. And of course this budget rider is all about money. But not about our federal deficit—about the inconsequential dip in the profits of utility companies should they be forced to place their toxic waste in lined landfills, close their decades-old, high hazard ash ponds, and prevent their metal-laden waste from blowing into the lungs of nearby residents.

The House’s Continuing Resolution, dripping with truly irrational and ideological riders, should be seen for what it is, an attempt to throw meaty bones to corporate sponsors. We await a rational bill from the Senate stripped of the coal ash rider and other riders that constrain EPA’s authority, based on ideology, not science. Let your senator know today that you’d like the EPA to complete its coal ash rulemaking unfettered, based on the best available science and effective protection of public health.

Also, check out how your representative voted on the McKinley amendment. If he/she voted for the amendment, send a message that you want a vote on the facts next time, and that your health and pocketbook depend on it. 

Tr-Ash talk: House broken
The House’s rabid attack on EPA authority to regulate coal ash.