Federal Water Tap, July 27: House Passes Coal Ash Bill Despite White House Veto Threat

The Rundown

Coal ash debate arrives in Congress. Farmers are using more groundwater in Oregon’s Klamath River Basin while Congress considers ratifying a historic agreement in the basin. Hurricane Sandy was a once-in-500-year event for some tidal monitoring stations. Pollution problems plague California groundwater.

“All of our regulations are tailored specifically to our coal types, specifically to the coal ash, specifically to our geology; and, frankly, this legislative approach may not be perfect, but it is better than the EPA’s proposal, Mr. Chairman, which leaves way too many opportunities for extreme environmentalists to meddle, to use the courts to come in place throughout the years and impose much more extreme regulations.” — Kevin Cramer (R-ND), speaking on the House floor in support of H.R. 1734, a bill to give power to the states to regulate the disposal of coal ash. The bill passed.

By the Numbers

20 percent: Number of monitoring stations in New York that recorded a tide during Hurricane Sandy equal or greater than the 500-year flood elevation. (U.S. Geological Survey)
$US 40 million: Cost of replacing eight turbines at Glen Canyon Dam. The project, which began in 2004, is expected to be completed later this year. (Arizona Republic)

Reports and Studies

California Water Contamination
Nearly one-fifth of the groundwater that is used for public drinking water supplies has high levels of contaminants, according to a decade-long U.S. Geological Survey, the Orange County Register reports. The study measured pollutants in the water before it was treated and delivered to homes. Though people using city water are generally shielded from these pollutants by water treatment processes, California’s 250,000 private wells are the responsibility of homeowners, who face a greater risk.

Klamath River Basin Groundwater Decline
Because Endangered Species Act protections for salmon are making less surface water available, irrigators in Oregon’s Klamath River Basin are pumping more groundwater. According to a U.S. Geological Survey study, that additional pumping is decreasing the water stored in the aquifer as well as the water that flows underground and into the region’s lakes and rivers.

News Briefs

Coal Ash Vote and Veto Threat
The House passed a bill to give more power to the states to regulate the disposal of coal ash. Republicans praised the bill as a sensible job-saving measure that respects local geological, hydrological, and economic conditions. Democrats, such as Paul Tonko of New York, argued that the bill has no national standards that would protect communities from disposal practices that have led to large spills of toxic waste in Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008, and in the Dan River, in North Carolina, last year.

The act “largely maintains the status quo — a system that is operated by the states with no uniform federal standards — and the status quo isn’t good enough,” Tonko said.

The House action drew a veto threat from the White House, claiming that the bill would “undercut important national protections” against the risk of spills from coal ash ponds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided in December 2014 not to regulate coal ash as a hazardous material, which environmental advocates viewed as bowing to industry.

On the Radar

Water Bills in Committee
On July 28, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will discuss legislation to ratify three historic water settlements in the Klamath River Basin of California and Oregon that will potentially end decades of acrimony between Indian tribes, ranchers, dam owners, and state and federal officials.

The committee will also discuss a bill that authorizes a pipeline that connects existing reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin of Washington state, a move to improve water supply for farmers and river flows for salmon.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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