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DEP Secretary Pushes for State Control of Coal Ash

Pennsylvania's abandoned mine reclamation program might be in danger if the U.S. House of Representatives does not pass a resolution, according to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). House Resolution 2273, the Coal Residuals and Management Act, would establish a framework allowing states to continue operating their existing coal ash residue programs.

DEP Secretary Mike Krancer asked Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation to vote for the resolution in an October 13th letter. He said that the legislation's framework would be up to the states. "There would be certain minimum requirements for monitoring and environmental protective measures," said Krancer. "Pennsylvania is certainly very well versed at doing this through our various regulations, including Chapter 287, which governs the use or disposal of this material."

Coal ash residue is used for construction materials such as cement, concrete, and wallboard. It is also used in the state's abandoned mine reclamation program and acid mine drainage remediation. Critics say the ash itself contains arsenic and lead, which can be harmful if they leach into groundwater.

Krancer said the resolution is necessary to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from classifying coal ash residue as hazardous waste. "About a year ago, the EPA published a notice that they intended to march in this direction. It provided a few options other than hazardous waste classification, but the direction seemed clear," said Krancer. "It seems to me, like so many other things the EPA is doing, is they're rushing and they're making mistakes while they're rushing."

He said that there are two ways a material could be classified as hazardous waste: the EPA could declare it as hazardous waste, or it could fail a toxic bleaching test. Coal ash residue has yet to fail a test.

Groups such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Governors Association, the Environmental Council of States, the American Society for Testing and Materials, and 74 members of Congress have previously opposed regulating coal ash as hazardous waste.