WASHINGTON – After seven tries at coal ash disposal legislation, the U.S. Representative from West Virginia's 1st Congressional District is being praised for an agreement between House and Senate Conference Committees announced earlier this month.
"During nearly eight years in which President Barack Obama used the Environmental Protection Agency as a hammer to pound away at the coal industry and affordable electricity, precious few victories were recorded on behalf of common sense," The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register said in an op-ed piece Friday, Dec. 12. "But there was one big one, and U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., deserves the lion’s share of credit for it."
The one big one is the agreement between House and Senate Conference Committees to address the disposal of coal ash in the Water Resources Development Act. The act authorizes states to implement their own coal ash permit program, which would create certainty for utilities and users of coal ash, McKinley said in a statement.
That agreement also dovetails with legislation McKinley long has supported, which has passed the House three times only to be shot down in the Senate.
"This legislation is important because it will finally create certainty for utilities and users of coal ash," McKinley Spokesman John Stapleton said during a The West Virginia Record email interview. "This legislation gets rid of the concern that coal ash could be hazardous in the future by the EPA. This bill will protect upwards of over 300,000 jobs and it helps maintain lower energy costs."
McKinley began pushing that legislation when the EPA, acting under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, issued a proposed rule that, among other things, would treat coal ash as a hazardous waste.
"Congressman McKinley has been working and fighting on this issue for 6 years," Stapleton said.
McKinley regularly introduced bills that would have rolled back certain portions of the EPA regulations pertaining to the disposal of coal ash waste. Those bills passed the House in the 112th, 113th, and 114th Congresses, only to die in the Senate. Meanwhile, the EPA issued sweeping rules in December 2014 as McKinley prepared to support his bill, H.R. 1734, the following year.
McKinley explained to a reporter, shortly after lawmakers in the House voted 258-166 in favor of the bill July 22, 2015, that he wanted to provide businesses with greater certainty after the EPA's sweeping rule issue the previous December.
“The way the rule is currently written, oversight will occur only through lawsuits, not through regulators,” McKinley was quoted in The Hill the same day as the vote.
Even if the legislation had ever made it to President Obama's desk, the president said he would veto it, claiming it was an attempt to undermine the EPA’s rule.
“EPA’s rule articulates clear and consistent national standards to protect public health and the environment, prevent contamination of drinking water and minimize the risk of catastrophic failure at coal ash surface impoundments,” the White House said in a statement issued after the July 2015 vote. “H.R. 1734 would, however, substantially weaken these protections.”
The matter seemed stalled there until the agreement earlier this month, resulting in a plan contained in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (S. 612). That legislation passed both the House and Senate and was signed by the president last week.
"This important partnership has helped us achieve a careful balance based on existing state and federal law," said a statement released by the White House Press Secretary's office. "It is essential that it not be undermined by anyone who seeks to override that balance by misstating or incorrectly reading the provisions."
This legislation is part of Obama's waning days as president, Stapleton told The West Virginia Record.
"This legislation passed the Senate a week and a half ago and last Friday it was signed by the president," he said. "It is now law, so the election results would not have any impact as far as this bill becoming a law."