Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill titled “Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015”, a bill that seeks to change key regulations on coal ash handling put into place by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Previously, the EPA set forth several regulations under their proposed coal ash disposal rule that is set to go into effect this October. Under H.R. 1734, though, many of these provisions would either be thrown out or left up to the states – which would inevitably see several states discarding them altogether or refusing to enforce them.
One such provision involves restrictions on coal ash handling and disposal. The implementation of these new restrictions would be delayed under the bill. Facilities can also continue to dump coal ash into surface impounds that are leaking for up to eight years after contamination is first documented.
Overall, the bill seeks to place regulation of coal ash – the second-largest source of waste produced in the United States – in the hands of the states versus the federal government and the EPA.
Shortly before bill passed along a party-line vote in the House, the body rejected a proposed amendment from Congresswoman Alma Adams that would require facilities and utilities to continually study wells in proximity to their coal ash ponds for potential contamination, among other regulations focused on public disclosure. That amendment failed before the bill itself was passed.
Moving Forward: Projecting the Result
Now the bill is before the Senate. If the bill proceeds along party lines like did in the House, the Senate will likely pass the provision and send it to President Obama for his signature. However, the president has previously threatened to veto measures that would undermine the EPA’s coal ash requirements, conceivably as a part of the administration’s overall campaign to regulate the coal industry.
Therefore, the chances that President Obama will sign the bill into law are slim. It is likely that the EPA’s more stringent coal ash handling regulations will be upheld and will go into effect as planned in October, barring any potential compromises or changes in the Senate when that body examines the bill in detail.
We’ll continue to follow this bill as it makes its way through Congress and report on its implications should it pass the president’s desk and become signed into law.