Report: House coal-ash bill loosens arsenic limits

October 13, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

There’s a new report out today from the Environmental Integrity Project regarding H.R. 2273, the bill Rep. David McKinley authored to prevent the Obama EPA from putting in place national standards for the handling and disposal of toxic coal ash.

According to their press release:

HR 2273, scheduled for a vote in the U.S. House on Friday, would authorize construction of new coal ash sites designed to leak up to five times more arsenic into groundwater than current law allows, according to a new analysis by The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

H.R. 2273 appears to eventually require cleanup if ash dumps cause arsenic and other pollutants to exceed the Safe Drinking Water Act standards in effect today, though without any real deadlines to give that requirement teeth. But the bill effectively wipes out these protections by allowing states to waive any standards – including the obligation to clean up badly polluted drinking water – by simply deciding they are “not needed” for coal ash management. The bill also requires EPA to defer to those judgments, which means that bad state decisions cannot be reversed, even if they jeopardize public health.

So, Rep. McKinley wants to put decisions about how toxic coal ash could impact public health in the hands of, for example, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection — whose secretary was just saying yesterday is not an expert in public health.

EIP Director Eric Schaeffer said:

This shameful legislation is filled with loopholes, trap doors, and exit ramps for polluters. It was written to keep the coal industry from having to clean up contaminated sites, and from being taken to court for the failure to do so. It was pretty obviously not written to protect anyone whose drinking water is at risk from coal ash pollution.

While the legislation’s lead sponsor is Rep. McKinley, I had forgotten until looking up some of the language today that our good friend, Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., is also a co-sponsor …

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