Statement by Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.)
Amendment to H.R. 2273: Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act
House Energy and Commerce Committee
July 12, 2011

“Today, we are here to discuss yet another Republican bill whose premise is to prevent EPA from following the scientific evidence. 

“This bill says that no matter what EPA learns about the sludge that comes out of coal-fired power plants, no matter how high the concentrations of poisonous arsenic, mercury or chromium, and no matter what EPA learns about how these materials find their way into our drinking water – EPA is forbidden from classifying or regulating it as hazardous waste. It is a green-light pass for utility companies to dispose of their waste without regard to public health or the environment. 

“It turns out that Republicans are not alone in this conclusion. Mercury, a major component of coal ash, was a common cure-all for many 19th century ailments. Do you have a toothache? Just rub a little mercury on it.

“In the 1800’s, arsenic, another large component of coal ash, was sold by pharmacists everywhere as a soap to rid the skin of liver spots, blotches, wrinkles and other signs of aging. Turns out you never have to worry about aging if you rub arsenic on your face every day.  Of course, the ads didn’t mention that using this product could also lead to premature death, so one could actually avoid the aging process altogether.

“Last year, in a hearing I chaired, the Republican witness Dr. Donald McGraw even said he would be happy to sprinkle arsenic-laced coal ash on his cereal.  Perhaps next week, the Subcommittee will make a new space on the food pyramid for coal ash. Or maybe it will be in a containment pond next to the pyramid.

“The Republican bill takes us back in time to the era of magic tonics and medical quackery passed off as legitimate medicine.
“The problem with continuing to push 19th century technology like traditional coal is that you apparently also have to continue 19th century attitudes about health and the environment.

“Instead of allowing the coal industry and Republicans to transport our country’s environmental and public health standards back to the era of Charles Dickens, we should hold these industries to ‘Greater’ Expectations.

“This bill denies the public a role in permitting decisions that intimately affect local communities in the 42 states in which coal ash disposal occurs.

“It denies communities a voice in decisions about waste sites that may be hundreds of acres in size, receive millions of tons of waste, and which may be in operation for decades.

“Absent public participation, we could easily see a disproportionate number of waste facilities being sited in low income communities or communities of color.

“My amendment is simple and straightforward. It ensures that there are opportunities for public participation in the permitting process by:
•    allowing for a public hearing before a State adopts a plan for handling coal combustion wastes,
•    allowing for public comment on the standards that are applied to the establishment and expansion of waste impoundments and landfills, and
•    allowing any affected person to seek judicial review of EPA decisions regarding State plans.

“The amendment also ensures that when EPA notes deficiencies in a State program that the notice it issues is made available to the public and not hidden behind a cloak of secrecy. Results from groundwater monitoring would also be made public.

“Public participation is an essential cornerstone of permitting in every environmental law that this Committee has put on the books – the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, known as RCRA.

“Ensuring that the needs of communities are considered in permitting decisions results in the best and safest permitting decisions and engages residents in a process that may literally occur in their backyards.

“I urge support of this important amendment.”