Coal ash bill in progress

Coal ash, the residue from coal fired power plants, is either recycled by using it in other products or it’s held in containment sites. In May 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it plans to regulate coal ash containment sites by requiring that all sites are fitted with liners. The Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) has been advocating for regulations and assisting in the development of legislation that would require geosynthetic lining of these sites.

Such action would have a significant impact on the geosynthetic materials market in the U.S. The proposed rules could apply to all new and existing sites, with geosynthetic clay liners (GCL) and geomembranes used as liners, and geotextiles and geogrids used in access roads and levee reinforcement.

GMA has testified and provided written comments on EPA’s proposed rule; however, the utilities, recycling industry and GMA would like the issue resolved much sooner through legislation. (It is likely there would not be an EPA ruling on coal ash until after the 2012 U.S. national elections.) On June 28 GMA participated in a conference call on recent action in the House of Representatives on coal ash legislation known as the McKinley Bill.

The push for a legislative solution to the coal ash waste issue has been motivated by concerns that the EPA will classify coal ash as a hazardous waste when the EPA completes its rule-making process. The original McKinley Bill was introduced as an amendment to an appropriations bill and banned the EPA from using federal funds to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste. A new bill, generally consistent with GMA’s position on the coal ash issue, has moved out of committee and has a good chance of passage. The new bill would regulate coal ash as a solid (non-hazardous) waste, allow for state permitting and control, and provide the utilities with more regulatory certainty.