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Spat between White House, EPA could derail federal coal ash rules
The White House and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are at odds over what federal regulations should look like in regards to the disposal of coal ash, and the outcome will have an impact on Iowa.
The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that in an unusual move, the office of President Barack Obama’s regulatory czar has held nearly 20 meetings with coal industry groups since October. The topic of discussion is whether the EPA should classify coal ash, the toxic byproduct of coal combustion, as a hazardous waste.
Watchdog groups say it is unusual for the OMB to insert itself so prominently, and so early, into the process. In this case, the EPA has yet to publish its proposed new regulations for coal ash, a step that would then open the door to public comment and hearings.
“Industry is trying to influence the process in a back-door fashion,” said Lisa Evans, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental organization.
The EPA originally promised to release draft regulations of coal ash by the end of 2009, and in doing so, open the rules up for public comment. That deadline was pushed back indefinitely last month. The fear among many hoping for tough new rules is that the EPA will issue regulations that either don’t classify coal ash as hazardous waste or split its designation between wet and dry ash.
In Iowa, there are four coal ash disposal sites that have received state waivers allowing them to accept ash without protective liners to prevent toxins such as mercury, zinc, lead, arsenic and selenium from leeching into groundwater. The sites are also not required to test groundwater to see if the pollution is already taking place.
Gov. Chet Culver and legislative leaders have said that once the EPA releases draft rules the state will determine whether to work on its own regulations. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources worked for more than a year on tougher coal ash regulations before opposition from site owners and coal-burning businesses, along with uncertainty about what regulations the federal government may eventually impose, caused the effort to stall.