Washington, DC -- Congressman Eliot Engel criticized the Republican Coal Residuals Reuse Management Act (HR. 2273), passed today in the House (267-144), saying it fails to protect the environment from coal ash and is a danger to public health and safety.

Coal ash is waste generated by coal burning power plants. It contains toxic elements such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium, heavy metals that have been shown to cause cancer and neurological damage to people.

Rep. Engel said, “This bill will endanger public health by failing to ensure that coal ash -- the byproduct of burning coal, which is filled with arsenic, lead and mercury and other toxic chemicals -- is disposed of safely and kept out of our air anddrinking water. This bill is counter to the best available science.”

“Again the Republicans in the House are determined to overturn the regulations that keep the public safe from the dangers of industrial processes by stripping the federal government of its ability to regulate such dangers.”

“Coal ash disposal standards in this legislation are even less protective than the standards for common household garbage.”

Also, the legislation passed today also does not require dust controls of coal ash as it is transported and disposed of. Without such controls, toxic coal ash dust can be carried away be the air. In New York City, and especially the Bronx, there are high rates of asthma to be worsened by the windblown ash.

“The Republicans want to do away with health care, while poisoning people by doing away environmental regulations,” Rep. Engel said.  

Rep. Engel, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that in December of 2008, over a billion pounds of coal ash sludge from the Kingston Power plant broke through the dam near Harriman, Tennessee, swamping houses and rivers and covering 300 acres of land. He noted that the United States produces 130 million tons of coal ash every year, the second largest source ofsolid waste in the country.

Under each of our environmental laws, Congress has always established a legal standard when delegating programs to the states. These standards are the yardsticks to determine whether a state’s efforts measure up.  They ensure a consistent level of effort and protection throughout the nation, preventing a race to the bottom among the states where a state willing to have the least protective standards becomes the dumping ground for the nation.

“In this case,” said Rep. Engel, “the GOP wants to give the regulatory power to individual states with no minimum guidelines and remove any ability of the federal government to raise deficient standards.”

There are approximately 676 coal ash impoundments located throughout the U.S.  Coal ash disposal, particularly in unlined ponds, threatens to contaminate groundwater with the toxic contaminants, including arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the cancer risk from arsenic near some unlined coal ash ponds is as high as 1 in 50, which is 2000 times the EPA’s regulatory goal for reduction of cancer risk to 1 in 100,000.

An EPA report in 2007 found that in the course of a decade 67 towns in 26 states had their groundwater contaminated by these heavy metals from coal ash sites.

The very minimal criteria that this bill calls on States to adopt can be waived by any State, at any time and no one will everknow about it. Not the pubic, not the communities affected, and not the federal government. This essentially allows States to operate this program under a cloak of secrecy-- counter to calls for transparency in government heard from both sides of the aisle.