Senator John Hoeven today said a bipartisan measure he introduced in the Senate to ensure the safe and efficient recycling of coal ash has bipartisan support in the Senate and needs to come to the Senate floor for a vote before the end of the year. The proposal passed the U.S. House of Representatives today as part of a comprehensive package of energy legislation. That package also included Representative Rick Berg's regional haze bill that will enable states to properly manage visibility standards.
Hoeven introduced the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act in the Senate last month with 11 other Republican and 12 Democratic cosponsors. His legislation will enable the recycling of coal residuals into a valuable construction material for roads, buildings and other infrastructure projects. It provides strong state oversight for storage and management of coal residuals, while empowering industry to safely recycle it into cost-effective construction materials.
Hoeven pressed for passage of the new legislation on the floor of the Senate late Thursday, illustrating his comments with representations of Bismarck State University's National Center of Energy Excellence and the new $50 million North Dakota Heritage Center expansion, both of which incorporate recycled coal ash in their construction.
"Simply put, this legislation sets commonsense standards for managing and recycling coal ash with a state-led, states-first approach," Hoeven said. "Now, we have strong bipartisan support for the bill. We need to take the bill up this year and pass it."
Hoeven said the bill is not just about energy. It's about good-paying jobs at a time when the nation has more than 8 percent unemployment and economic growth when the nation has a $16 trillion debt. It's also about national security, he said.
"Look what's going on across the Middle East. Americans do not want to be dependent on importing energy from the Middle East, and the reality is with the right energy plan, we can produce that energy here at home and be energy secure, create good jobs, get our economy growing at the same time."
Hoeven said the concept should appeal to those who favor renewable energy as well as those who favor traditional sources. Nationwide the country reduces energy consumption by 162 trillion btu's a year by using coal ash, about equal to the amount of energy used to serve 1.7 million homes. Using coal ash also saves 32 billion gallons of water annually, about one-third of the amount of water used in the state of California.
Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-based electricity generation that has been safely recycled for buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure for years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, is considering regulating it as a hazardous waste.
Hoeven's measure would set up a state permitting program for coal ash under a section of the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act. It would ensure coal ash storage sites meet new federal standards regarding strict structural standards, independent inspections, wind dispersal of dust, groundwater monitoring and correction or closure of leaking sites. State regulations would have to be based on these new federal standards for the management, disposal and oversight of coal ash in order to protect human health and the environment. States that prefer could grant oversight to the EPA.
The senator said the measure would provide states and industry with the predictability they need to manage residuals because the benchmarks for what constitutes a successful management program will be set in statute.
"I want to thank both the Republicans and the Democrats that have stepped forward on this bill, particularly Senator Conrad, my colleague in North Dakota, Senator Baucus and others," Hoeven said. "We have the bipartisan support to move this bill forward. We need to be able to do it this year."