Inhofe Praises First State Coal Ash Permit Program for Oklahoma

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) praised the grant of the first state permit to Oklahoma for the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR or coal ash). Sen. Inhofe authored the bipartisan legislation, signed by President Obama, that created a state permitting program under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.  

“This is exactly how cooperative federalism should work,” Inhofe said. “States are best equipped to manage environmental concerns, like coal ash management, because they are the ones most familiar with their own, unique circumstances. That’s why I authored the bipartisan provision in the 2016 WIIN Act establishing a permit program for disposing of coal combustion residuals. As a nation-wide leader in environmental management, I am pleased Oklahoma received the first state permit, which will improve regulatory certainty and support energy providers and consumers across the state.”

Background -

Today, the EPA approved Oklahoma’s first-in-the-nation application to operate a state permit program regulating the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR or coal ash) from electric utilities. 

On April 28, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wrote to the nation’s governors informing them about the WIIN Act and encouraging them to submit applications to operate state permit programs.  EPA issued interim final guidance on August 10, 2017 to assist states in developing their program applications and providing a framework for how EPA would process the applications.

Oklahoma initially submitted its draft application on July 31, 2017.  On December 21, 2017, EPA informed Oklahoma that its application was complete, triggering the 180-day review deadline.  EPA hosted a public hearing in Oklahoma City on February 13, 2018, about Oklahoma’s application. This is the first time EPA has approved a state permit program for CCR using the new authority that Congress provided EPA in 2016. 

Sen. Inhofe authored the provisions to make this possible -

In April 2015, EPA published a final rule under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that designated CCR as nonhazardous waste and established national requirements governing the disposal of CCR in landfills and surface impoundments.  Unlike the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which are generally implemented by states through permit programs that are approved by EPA, RCRA originally did not authorize EPA to regulate CCR as nonhazardous waste through state permit programs.  Instead, utilities were responsible for directly implementing the requirements of EPA’s 2015 CCR rule, which were enforceable only through citizen suits. 

As chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Inhofe led two hearings examining the challenges of the 2015 CCR rule and the need for legislation to allow Oklahoma and other states to regulate CCR through EPA-approved state permit programs rather than through the self-implementing requirements of the CCR rule.  Representatives of electric utilities and states testified in favor of amending RCRA to allow state permit programs because they would be able to tailor the requirements for disposing of CCR to address the specific risks and concerns posed by an individual utility, rather than through the one-size-fits-all national standards in the 2015 CCR rule. 

Inhofe worked on a bipartisan basis with then-ranking member Barbara Boxer, other members of the Senate, and colleagues in the House of Representatives, along with states, the utility sector, and environmental groups, to craft compromise legislation giving states authority to regulate CCR through permit programs.  This legislation was included as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which passed the Senate by a vote of 78 to 21 and was enacted into law in December 2016.  The WIIN Act is PL-114-322.  Senator Inhofe’s Coal Ash provision is Section 2301.

Under the WIIN Act authority, EPA is required to approve within 180 days of receipt a state’s application to operate a permit program in lieu of the 2015 CCR rule if the Administrator determines the state’s program will require electric utilities to comply with the requirements of the 2015 CCR rule or successor regulations.  However, an approved state program may allow individual permits to include technical requirements that vary from the requirements of the 2015 CCR rule or successor regulations so long those site-specific requirements are at least as protective of the federal requirements.

Past Committee Testimony:

June 17, 2015 -- Inhofe led an oversight hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee examining EPA’s 2015 final rule to regulate the disposal of coal combustion residuals from electric utilities. Inhofe made the following statement at the hearing:

“This is an important issue that cuts across the Committee’s areas of jurisdiction—from the regulation of waste, to the impact of EPA’s other rules on electric utilities, and to the importance of coal ash to highways and infrastructure projects. EPA has extensively studied the safety of coal ash. For decades, coal ash has been regulated as nonhazardous waste by states. It is also worth noting that coal ash is an important ingredient in concrete and helps extend the lifespan of and control costs for the concrete used in roads and bridges. In fact, many State Departments of Transportation require the use of coal ash in their road projects.”

March 2, 2016 -- Inhofe led a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee to consider the bipartisan Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act (S. 2446), focusing on how to development state permit programs to regulate CCR.  Key excerpts from Inhofe:

“I agree with the EPA’s decision that coal ash is a non-hazardous waste, and I can assure you, in case you are wondering, that there are not 60 votes in the United States Senate that would change that ruling, so Congress should amend RCRA to authorize the State permitting programs for coal ash. The President supports it…As Ranking Member Boxer noted at last year’s hearing on EPA’s coal ash regulation, authorizing State permitting programs ‘is really not that different from so many other laws. If you want to talk about permitting, I would be happy to work with you to make that fix, if necessary.’ Now, I agree. I see no reason why coal ash should not be regulated through the EPA’s approved State permitting programs, just like air, water, and hazardous waste…”

Past Press Releases: