March 8, 2018
By Jennifer Lu
Power plants that turn coal waste into energy would be exempt from some of the EPA’s toxic air pollutant standards, under a bill passed by the House March 8.
The bill—called Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act, or SENSE (H.R. 1119)—was sponsored by Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.) and passed by a vote of 215-189.
It would benefit 18 facilities that burn coal waste, three of which are in Pennsylvania. Those plants would have to control emissions of either hydrogen chloride or sulfur dioxide, but not both, under the bill.
“Without the SENSE act, five coal-to-energy facilities will close and their remediation will end,” Rothfus said on the floor prior to voting.
Proponents see energy derived from coal waste leftover from coal mining as a form of environmental remediation.
Coal waste is often disposed in giant piles in states like Pennsylvania. The piles themselves are a hazard and can catch fire, or heavy metal toxins in the waste end up seeping into the water supply.
Those against the bill say that energy industries shouldn’t be subject to less stringent emissions standards for processing waste.
Coal refuse plants would likely go out of business by April 2019, when a waiver for waste-to-power companies under the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury rule expires, Sean Lane, executive vice president for government affairs at Olympus Power LLC, previously told Bloomberg Environment.
The SENSE Act does not yet have a companion bill in 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.
—With assistance from Stephen Lee.