Climate + Energy

Coal Ash Follow Up

Last July I wrote about Colorado U.S. Representative Diana DeGette’s support for a bill that would have undermined protecting people and the environment from coal ash.

The bill, HR 2273, came in response to the EPA’s efforts to finally regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste and was one of several bills proposed in this last year aimed at rolling back environmental safeguards to prevent regulators from keeping people safe from contamination.

The contamination from coal ash is, sadly, undisputed.  Reports have found that coal-fired power plants throughout the U.S. have put drinking water, rivers, ecosystems, and of course our own communities at risk.  And yet, coal ash is not regulated.  Even worse, the concept of regulating this toxic waste has come under attack and HR 2273 is leading the charge.

Which is why I was heartened to finally receive an e-mail from Rep. DeGette explaining that, despite her vote, she opposes HR 2273.  It’s a good sign that level heads are staying strong in Congress and an even better sign that Rep. DeGette is listening to folks in Colorado who have taken the time to speak out in favor of keeping us safe from coal ash.

For posterity’s sake, and also to make sure I don’t take anything out of context, below is Rep. DeGette’s full e-mail:

Dear Jeremy:

Thank you for contacting me to share your views on the Coal Residual Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2273). I am pleased to learn your views on this issue and appreciate the opportunity to share mine.

My goal during negotiations of H.R. 2273 was, in the face of uncertainty surrounding coal ash disposal and management, to clearly require – for the first time – that all units receiving coal combustions residuals (CCRs) to obtain a state-issued permit, and if the EPA found this permit to be deficient, to allow the EPA to work with states to bring their permit programs up to a standard that ensured protection of human health and environment.

During Energy and Commerce Committee consideration of H.R. 2273, legitimate conversation and good-faith negotiations seemed to bear fruit for the first time in a while around here. So when the Committee marked up the Coal Residual Reuse and Management Act in July, I voted Yes.

After the Committee markup, negotiations continued, as you see with the Manager’s Amendment introduced by Representative John Shimkus (R-IL). I was encouraged by my conversations with friends on both sides of the aisle which reinforced that we share the same goals. Yet the outstanding question, of whether any future EPA Administrator would have the authority to enforce the requirements we all seemed to agree should be in place, remained unanswered.

I cannot safely say that this bill would uphold a legal standard to protect human health and environment. This legal standard should be stated explicitly in the bill under the permit program specifications. Currently, protection of public health and the environment is mentioned in reference to the revised criteria in the bill that originally applied to municipal solid waste. But a state permit program is not required to incorporate these revised criteria, and, furthermore, it is unclear whether the revised criteria would protect public health and the environment when applied to CCRs instead of municipal solid waste.

Second, I believe this legislation should clearly describe when and how EPA can get involved if a state permit program does not uphold human health and environmental protections. It is unclear whether the EPA could provide written notice and an opportunity to remedy deficiencies if a permit program does not meet specifications described under the revised criteria. In one subsection, the language implies the EPA could provide notice; yet in another section, the EPA is limited to evaluating the sufficiency of only the minimum requirements. Further, if a state chooses not to implement a permit program, the EPA can only design a program that enforces the minimum requirements, but not any of the revised criteria.

Because this bill directly creates new regulation without expert guidance from the Administration, Congress must hold this language to an even stricter standard. I believe Colorado could operate a permit program under this proposed language that would protect human health and the environment, and I want to thank them for their good work and assistance on this issue. Unfortunately, I do not believe every state’s permit program could be required to meet this basic requirement. Therefore I opposed H.R. 2273, the Coal Combustion Residuals Reuse and Management Act.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Please feel free to visit my website at There you can sign-up for my e-mail newsletter and stay up-to-date with other events in Congress.


Diana DeGette
Member of Congress

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