“Utilization of coal combustion waste in products like cement can reduce the need for other raw materials, lower production cost, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Subcommittee Chairman Heath Shuler (D-NC). “With a balanced policy approach that promotes the beneficial use of coal ash, we can help preserve our environment, while creating new opportunities for small businesses.”

Coal-fired power plants produce nearly half of the power generated in the U.S., creating 136 million tons of coal combustion byproduct called “coal ash” in the process. While it can have negative impacts on the environment and be costly to dispose of or store, entrepreneurs have developed safe uses for coal ash, recycling 50 million tons in construction products like concrete, cement and gypsum wallboard. North Carolina entrepreneurs testified that coal ash has been used safely in concrete mixes by their state’s highway department for two decades because it makes building materials stronger, while reducing construction costs by $5 million a year. Rural electric utilities in the state have also invested in scrubbers, which reduce power plant emissions by capturing the ash.

“Innovative North Carolina entrepreneurs are working hard to help reduce pollution and replace the jobs we’ve lost to outsourcing by creating good-paying jobs here at home,” Shuler said. “It’s important to foster green industries that put people back to work and promote a healthier environment for our children and grandchildren.”

The EPA is proposing new regulations for coal ash aimed at addressing safety and environmental concerns. Depending on how those regulations are crafted, coal ash could be regulated like a hazardous waste, a move that has raised concerns among small businesses. During the hearing, entrepreneurs in the recycling industry said a hazardous waste classification carries a stigma and would raise liability fears, making it difficult to use coal ash in building materials. Lawmakers also questioned whether the EPA had evaluated the full impact the proposed rule might have on small businesses. In one exchange with lawmakers, the EPA witness conceded that stiffer regulation of coal ash could potentially cause a 6% increase in electricity rates.

“Small businesses involved in the recycling, handling and transportation of coal ash stand to suffer serious economic harm if the EPA doesn’t get this right,” Shuler said. “I agree that we need strong and enforceable regulations at the federal level for coal ash storage and disposal. I want to work with the EPA on a solution to provide better environmental protection without the economic damages of regulating coal ash like a hazardous waste—when it really isn’t.”

The EPA’s proposed rule was released in late June and public comments are being accepted until September 20. During the hearing, Shuler said he was preparing legislation to help address entrepreneurs’ concerns.

NFL Running Back Joins Forces with MSHA
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Thomas Jones has become a spokesperson for the agency’s annual “Stay Out-Stay Alive” public safety campaign, launched in 1999 to warn outdoor enthusiasts, especially children, about the dangers of playing on mine property. Each year, dozens of people are injured or killed in recreational accidents at active and abandoned mine sites.

Jones, who grew up in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia, has recorded a series of audio and video public service announcements describing the hidden dangers that exist in abandoned mines and quarries. “Both my parents were coal miners, and they instilled in me a respect for the hazards they often encountered while working underground,” said Jones. “If you haven’t been properly trained as a miner, you have no business being anywhere near a quarry, gravel pit or mine.”

“We are pleased Thomas has dedicated his time to help MSHA spread this very important safety message, especially to young people,” said Joe Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “Since professional athletes often serve as role models for our children, and he comes from a coal mining family, Thomas is the ideal spokesperson for this campaign.”