Waste Coal Burners, Pennsylvania Senators Attack Clean Air Health Protections

United States Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) have introduced an irresponsible amendment to the Senate’s Keystone XL bill that would exempt power plants burning “waste coal” from important clean air safeguards. These attacks represent an end run around the Clean Air Act, court decisions upholding the safeguards, and the facts. Most important, the loopholes would harm public health. Senators should reject the amendment.

The two Senators’ amendment would exempt waste coal plants from complying with the smog and soot limits in EPA’s landmark Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and the acid gas and sulfur dioxide pollution limits in the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

There are 14 waste coal-burning power plants in Pennsylvania, and Senator Toomey has claimed that “[i]t’s not possible for the waste coal power plants to comply with these rules.”

He is just wrong. When waste coal plant owners filed lawsuits challenging the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, claiming it was “virtually impossible” to meet the acid gas and sulfur dioxide limits, the court had little trouble rejecting these arguments unanimously.

The judges pointed to clear evidence that waste coal plants already were meeting these limits. EPA had evidence demonstrating that 8 out of 19 waste coal units with data already could meet the rule’s acid gas standard or alternative sulfur dioxide standard. Indeed, the court noted that some of these plants are “among the best performers” in achieving hydrogen chloride reductions among all coal-burning units under the rule. EPA went on to identify pollution controls waste coal-burning units already were using to meet the standards.

So Senator Toomey is flatly wrong to claim “it’s not possible for the waste coal power plants to comply with these rules.”

A majority of the United States Supreme Court also upheld EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, the second rule for which the Senators are seeking to manufacture a loophole. The cross-state rule is intended to protect Americans living downwind from air pollution created by dirty coal-burning power plants. In the case of Pennsylvania power plants, this protects Americans living in states as far away as Connecticut, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia—and Pennsylvania itself, of course.

In the face of this, the Senators pretend that their amendment would protect Pennsylvanians’ health. This is insupportable and they present nothing to back the claim. In reality, their amendment creates multiple loopholes from health-protective standards that all other coal-burning plants in the country must meet; standards that waste coal plants already were meeting before the rule; and standards that all waste coal plants can meet with currently available technology.

The waste coal industry turned to two Pennsylvania Senators for a series of reckless loopholes after the industry’s arguments failed in court, got nowhere during a public rulemaking, and contradicted the facts. Pennsylvanians have everything to gain from EPA’s clean air protections, and Senators Toomey and Casey do their constituents a grave disservice by introducing today’s amendment. All other Senators should exercise better leadership to protect all Americans by voting against the harmful waste coal amendment.