Sierra Club calls on Rockefeller to stop coal ash amendment - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Sierra Club calls on Rockefeller to stop coal ash amendment

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Sen. Jay Rockefeller is being called on by the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club in its fight to kill another West Virginia representative's coal ash provision of the transportation bill.

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., had an amendment added to the Republican-led House transportation bill that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash as hazardous waste. The amendment was instead give individual states the charge to regulate coal ash.

Rockefeller, a Democratic member of the conference committee appointed to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the transportation bill, said he would not support the amendment.

"Separately, I want to make it clear that I cannot support the environmental provisions that have been attached to the surface bill by the House," Rockefeller said in a statement issued last week. "These riders would jeopardize the tremendous bipartisan support this bill has had so far in the Senate."

Monday, the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club sent an e-mail warning of the dangers of coal ash and urging its members to contact Rockefeller and urge their support.

"Coal ash leaks arsenic into the Cheat River," wrote Jim Sconyers, director of the Sierra Club's West Virginia chapter. "Ash is dumped right into the water table in Cassville. A gigantic ash dam and pond threaten communities in the Northern Panhandle. The coal ash amendment would mean that we could just expect more of this - with sensible future protections banned."

Sconyers said coal ash is dumped "by the millions of tons" in West Virginia, with toxic effect.

"Coal ash is basically unregulated," Sconyers wrote. "The coal ash amendment would guarantee that coal ash will never be regulated."

In one interview, Rockefeller said that the coal ash amendment was "going down," a statement that drew sharp criticism from McKinley.

"I was frankly shocked at his public statement saying the coal ash language is ‘going down' and how he will work to remove it from the transportation bill," said McKinley.  

Rockefeller told the State Journal last week that the amendment needed to be improved before passing the Senate and said that citizen concerns about water contamination health impacts needs to be addressed.

"My priority is enacting into law a transportation bill that creates jobs, builds highways and bridges, and keeps people safe when they drive," Rockefeller said last week. "Adding coal ash or other environmental bills to that mix is a deal breaker on the conference committee. That's a fact, not an opinion, and both sides know it."

McKinley says coal ash, a byproduct coal combustion, can safely be used for building materials and other uses. Allowing recycling of coal ash waste, McKinley has said, will protect "more than 316,000 jobs," citing a Vertitas Economic Report.

The American Road and Transportation Builders' Association estimates that over 20 years, regulating coal ash as a hazardous material would increase road and bridge building costs by $110 billion.

Coal ash has been at the heart of the coal versus environment debate. Faulty coal ash impoundments have caused multiple ecological disasters.

Proponents of coal ash use say the toxic materials in coal ash are sequestered when used in concrete or other building materials while reducing building material costs. Coal fly ash also has been used in agriculture, structural fill, road bases and other applications.

The use of coal ash in building materials also reduces carbon dioxide emissions that otherwise would have been generated in the creation of Portland cement, the most common type of cement used in construction.

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