Indiana couldn't set stricter coal ash rules than federal ones under state House bill amendment
Environmental groups worry an amendment to House Bill 1623 could prevent Indiana from doing what’s best to handle its coal ash — or at the very least, create confusion. It would make it so the state can’t make stricter coal ash rules than federal ones.
The waste leftover from burning coal can have toxic heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can get into the groundwater and pollute local drinking water sources.
Tim Maloney with the Hoosier Environmental Council said the Indiana Department of Environmental Management needs to oversee coal ash in a way that makes sense for Indiana. For example, several coal ash ponds in Indiana are at risk of flooding both from nearby rivers and underground aquifers.
Maloney said the bill also conflicts with another Indiana law that told IDEM to develop a state permitting program for coal ash.
“We have this new language saying, ‘Well, you can't do anything that the feds don't do.’ Well, the feds don't have a permit program rule. So anything Indiana does in this regard that's not explicitly spelled out in the federal rule can be called into question," he said.
That could include how Indiana utilities close their coal ash ponds. IDEM has already approved some of those plans.
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The bill also would make it so the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation — also known as the Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corporation (OVEC/IKEC) — doesn’t have to follow new state rules for its ponds at its Clifty Creek coal plant until it can meet federal requirements.
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed denying OVEC/IKEC's request for more time to close the unlined ponds. If the plant can’t find a home for the waste in time, it may have to temporarily shut down.
Matthew Bell testified on behalf of the utility. He said the company shouldn’t have to adhere to different rules in Indiana than it does in Ohio.
“So our next door neighbor state has said your compliance with the federal rule is absolutely appropriate and meets our standard. In Indiana, our Department of Environmental Management says not so fast — we think some additional things need to happen," Bell said.
But that’s how it’s supposed to work, said Shannon Anderson with the climate advocacy group Earth Charter Indiana. The federal government sets the floor and it’s up to states to decide what else they want to do to protect their residents.
READ MORE: EPA clarifies coal ash rule, could lead to safer groundwater in Indiana.
Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.