Oct. 14, 2011: Markey: GOP coal ash bill ignores science, public health concerns

Floor Statement – Debate on Amendments
Markey Amendment on Public Participation
H.R. 2273, “Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act”
October 14, 2011
 
As prepared for delivery 


Two weeks ago, scientists at a massive facility in Europe announced that they may have discovered a particle that travels faster than the speed of light. A discovery that would turn Einstein’s theory of special relativity up-side down. A discovery that if true would revolutionize the way we see the world.

The news spurred a massive amount of interest. Headlines read “Back to the Future” and media stories even speculated on how this discovery could be exploited to enable real-life time travel. 

However, it seems Republicans have already figured out how to get around Einstein’s theory, because today, the House will vote on a piece of legislation that will blast us right back in time -- to the start of the Industrial Revolution.

This bill says 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 to classify or regulate it as hazardous waste. EPA is forbidden to require that this toxic material be disposed of carefully. 

This bill turns a blind eye to evidence of known hazards and takes us back to the Dark Ages. To a time before science was valued and before advanced knowledge transformed society.

It takes us back to an era when mercury and arsenic, major components of coal ash, were used to cure toothaches and clear up your complexion. It takes us back to an era where children were sent deep into the bowels of the earth to rip coal from the mines and die early deaths.

The problem with continuing to push a 19th century technology like coal is that you then continue 19th century attitudes about public health and the environment.

Instead of time travel through Einstein’s theory of special relativity, Republicans are pushing to travel backwards in time to advance the coal industry’s special interests.

While Republicans efforts on time travel are unlikely to help us understand Black Holes, they will take us back to the era of Black Lung disease.

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 “Great-er” Expectations.

In December 2008, hundreds of acres of land were buried in toxic sludge after a Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash containment pond collapsed in Tennessee, releasing 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry -- covering more than 300 acres of land in a grey poisonous muck, damaging homes and property and tainting nearby rivers. The event was, quite literally, a poisonous “lump of coal” dumped on the nearby community just three days before Christmas.

This Republican bill purports to be solution to what happened in Tennessee—it claims to create standards for coal ash containment ponds that would ensure structural integrity. But in fact it explicitly exempts these same coal ash ponds from key design requirements relating to their long-term stability.

The bill claims that states have to set up a rigorous drinking water monitoring regime and dust controls. But in fact, the bill has no legal or enforceable standard for these state programs. And even more, any state at any time can waive any of even these minimal permitting requirements and they don’t have to tell anyone.

That’s right, when it’s time to construct a gigantic containment pond in your backyard a state can choose to opt-out of the requirements of this bill, and no one - not the public or the EPA - would ever know.

This is just plain wrong.  We should not delegate this authority to the states and then turn around and let states hide behind a cloak of secrecy when making 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.

My amendment is very simple. It says that before a state can waive even the very minimal criteria that this bill requires, that the State must first notify the public and EPA and offer the opportunity for public comment.

There is nothing in this amendment that would prevent States from opting out of criteria, it simply provides transparency to this program and provides communities with a voice in decisions that may literally occur in their backyards.

I urge all of my colleagues to vote YES on this amendment.