Coal Tattoo

Obama undecided on Rahall coal-ash bill

A House Natural Resources subcommittee just finished a hearing on committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall’s bill to regulate coal-ash impoundments, and one thing that jumped out at me was the lack of any support from the Obama administration.

John Cranyon, chief of regulatory support at the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, explained it this way:

The Department of the Interior and the Administration are currently weighing how best to address this legislation. The Administration has not yet come to a conclusion as we consider different regulatory authorities and approaches for this issue, but will do so in the future.

Cranyon then went on to criticize the bill, saying — among other things — that Rahall’s requirement that OSM write dam-safety rules for coal-ash impoundments within 6 months is “ambitious” and “would be difficult to meet.”

Cranyon’s remarks probably didn’t surprise environmental groups, who aren’t too happy about the prospect of OSM taking the lead in regulating coal-ash management anyway.

“Putting OSM in charge of regulating toxic coal combustion waste is like having a fox guard the hen house,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club’s Move Beyond Coal Campaign. “Already on OSM’s watch, dozens of coal waste impoundments have failed. EPA on the other hand has studied the issue for 30 years and has the expertise to quickly and effectively regulate coal combustion waste in a way that takes into account the impact to human health and the environment.”

Of course, as Rahall pointed out during today’s hearing, EPA has studied the issue for 30 years, but still hasn’t acted to regulate coal ash.

You can read all of the testimony at the committee’s Web site. 

[UPDATED: Archived video of the hearing:]

Update on Rahall and coal ash

rahall_photo.jpglisaonbrown.jpgHouse Natural Resources Chairman Nick J. Rahall this afternoon released a copy of a letter he sent a week ago to incoming Obama administration EPA chief Lisa Jackson regarding coal-ash regulations.

Earlier today, I described the concerns of some envirnomental groups that Rahall was not going to support EPA making a determination that coal ash should be subject to regulation as “hazardous waste” under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. (See Coal Ash Comes to Congress).

I’ve posted this letter here, and will summarize below:

The status quo is not acceptable when it comes to the regulation of coal combustion wastes, especially in light of recent advances in air pollution control technologies, which have resulted in the capture of significant amounts of toxic residue that previously would have been released into the air.

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Byrd talks coal with Obama team

 byrd_1501.jpgSen. Robert C. Byrd is trying to make  “Friends of Coal” out of some of President Barack Obama’s top advisers

The West Virginia Democrat met separately earlier this week (in HIS office) with new Energy Secretary Steven “Coal is my worst nightmare” Chu and with new EPA adminstrator Lisa Jackson.

Byrd appeared to be signaling that Obama should rethink any plans to bypass Congress and have EPA try to set binding limits on carbon dioxide emissions through new regulations.

According to a press release from Byrd’s office:

In his meeting with Secretary of Energy Chu, Byrd told the Secretary that he wanted to “feel comfortable” that the Secretary recognized the importance of coal to our energy future, noting that “coal supplies half our nation’s electricity needs,” and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. Byrd’s comments were directed to Secretary Chu in light of Chu’s previous statement that coal was his “worst nightmare” and his questioning of the feasibility of clean coal technology.

Byrd’s office said that Chu committed to support the $4.6 billion for so-called clean coal technology that was inserted into the economic stimulus package that is currentlymaking its way through Congress.

As for EPA’s Lisa Jackson, Byrd’s office said:

Byrd asked the Administrator how she would go about balancing the costs of environmental enforcement (such as job loss and higher energy rates) against the need to protect the public health. Byrd told the EPA Administrator that “we must do better than just respond to the immediate political need.” Administrator Jackson noted that “coal is vital to our country now and if we are smart, it will remain so in the future.”

Byrd apparently urged the Obama administration to “proceed with caution” as it works with Congress on climate change legislation.

Those who have followed climate change issues for a while will recall that Byrd played a major role in blocking any Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Byrd said, “To be successful, a national climate change effort must have broad public support, and that it cannot be achieved by the regulatory actions of an agency, and that Congress has a much broader mandate that includes protecting jobs, communities and livelihoods.”

Capito, climate and coal

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced today that she’s been named to a key House committee that will play a big role in energy policy and in congressional debates over global warming.

In a press release, West Virginia Republican said she will “bring a coal state perspective” to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

“Our energy future should be at the forefront of the national discussion, and I’m excited to bring a West Virginia voice to those issues as a member of this committee,” Capito said. “From clean coal to wind energy and other alternative technology, our state has an important role to play.”

This particular committee was set up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early 2007 “to add urgency and resources to the commitment of this Congress to address the challenges of America’s oil dependence and the threat of global warming” according to the committee Web site

Last year, Capito flunked the League of Conservation Voters annual scorecard of congressional votes on environmental issues. As I wrote when the scorecard was published:

Capito received poor marks in part for her votes with the GOP minority against incentives for wind, solar, plug-in vehicles and other renewable energies. She also voted in favor of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

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