March 2018


On March 8 the House voted 215-189 on HR 1119, the SENSE act, to provide power plants that burn coal refuse from abandoned mines with relief from federal air-quality standards for pollutants including sulfur dioxide and hydrochloric acid. Voting yes: Meehan, Smucker.

On March 7 the House voted 234-180 on bill 1917, the BRICK Act, to delay public health protections limiting deadly toxic pollution – including mercury, arsenic, and chromium – from brick manufacturing facilities. Voting yes: Meehan, Smucker.

H.R. 1119, the SENSE Act, and H.R. 1917, the BRICK Act, are part of a multi-pronged effort by Republicans to undermine the commonsense safeguards found in the Clean Air Act in order to give special breaks to polluters at the expense of public health. Under these dirty air bills, Republicans make it easier for polluting corporations to contaminate the air in our neighborhoods, boosting profits for their allies, while selling out our children’s health and our future. From Democratic staff, Committee on Energy and Commerce

Opposition letter to Congress from League of Conservation Voters: H.R. 1119, the SENSE Act, would permanently exempt waste coal burning power plants from meeting certain clean air standards, including limits on hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide, both of which can cause significant respiratory problems. The courts have already ruled on this matter and found that waste coal burning power plants are already meeting these air quality standards, and there is no evidence that allowing for higher levels of pollutants would do anything but expose our communities to dirtier air. The SENSE Act is a clear prioritization of the interests of the waste coal industry over the health of our children, families, and communities.

From NRDC opposition letter: The SENSE Act would pick winners and losers under EPA’s signature air pollution program, the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), by favoring waste coal-burning power plants at the expense of other in-state coal power plants and the public. This would turn the neutral, performance-based legal standard maintained for 39 years under the Clean Air Act into blunt political favoritism and weaker standards, while replacing existing state decisions with new federal mandates.

The SENSE Act now heads to the Senate

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who advocated for the SENSE Act in 2016, has said on several occasions that waste coal plants were the “only viable option” for removing the “gob piles that blot Pennsylvania’s landscape.”

“Senator Toomey applauds the House passage of the SENSE Act and will continue, in addition to looking for opportunities for passage in the Senate, his work to encourage the EPA to address this issue through regulatory reform,” Kasia Mulligan, Toomey’s communication director, said prior to the vote.

The House passed a similar bill in 2016, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works, but it didn’t go further.

Letter to Senator Toomey

Your support of the Senate equivalent of H.R. 1119, the SENSE Act, is an attack on the commonsense safeguards that are part of the Clean Air Act.

Nationally, waste coal has an average of 60% of the BTU value of normal coals. It can take up to twice as much waste coal to produce the same amount of electricity.

Waste coal has a higher concentration of mercury than normal coals. In Pennsylvania, gob has 3.5 times more mercury than bituminous coal.

Bituminous waste coal has higher levels of sulfur

Burning waste coal doesn’t make the waste go away. If 100 tons of waste coal are burned, 85 tons will remain as waste coal ash.

Since far more mercury and other toxic contaminants enter a waste coal burner to produce a given amount of electricity, these high levels of toxic contaminants have to come out somewhere. Toxic metals cannot be destroyed by burning them. To the extent that they are captured in pollution controls (protecting the air), they are then concentrated in the highly toxic ash that ultimately threatens the groundwater wherever this ash is dumped. Waste coal burners have cleaner air emissions than antiquated coal plants due to their better pollution controls, but this only means that the ash is far more toxic, since the highly toxic particulates captured in pollution control equipment end up in the ash. The industry claims that 99.8% of the mercury in the fuel is captured and ends up in their ash.

Waste coal ash is dumped in communities not far from the waste coal burners, threatening the groundwater with leaching lead, mercury and other poisons. When burning any solid fuel, the resulting ash has a higher surface area than the raw, unburned material. The dangers of toxic leaching from ash can be expected to be greater than from the unburned waste coal. Just like with coffee, running water over coffee grounds leaches far more coffee out than if you ran water over whole coffee beans.

Read the complete article from containing the above information here.

We should be incentivizing clean energy like wind and solar, not the dirtiest types of coal plants. Clean solutions for coal refuse disposal is a cost that belongs to the coal companies, and repurposing waste to create more toxic waste is a horrific act that transparently demonstrates your own indebtedness to a dying and monstrously polluting industry.