Eye on OIRA: Coal Ash Meetings Up to 42, or More Than Half of All OIRA Meetings on EPA Rules

by James Goodwin | April 05, 2010

Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have long celebrated the number 42 as the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” Now, the number 42 also happens to be the number of meetings that OIRA has hosted regarding EPA’s pending coal ash rule, as it works toward developing the Obama Administration’s answer to the ultimate question of how to regulate the disposal of this toxic waste.

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OIRA Meetings on Coal Ash, as of April 5, 2010

(Click links to see attendees and examine documents presented to OIRA staff.)

Parties Supporting EPA Proposal (13)

Parties Opposing EPA Proposal (29)

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Those 42 meetings represent just over half of the 80 meetings OIRA has ...

The Empire Strikes Back

by Matthew Freeman | March 02, 2010
Ordinarily, if an organization with the word “recycling” in its name said unkind things about the Center for Progressive Reform, I’d worry. But the other week, we got dinged by a newly launched outfit called “Citizens for Recycling First,” and I’m thinking it’s a badge of honor. Before proceeding, let’s dwell for a moment on the mental images the group’s name conjures up. I’m thinking about plastic bins with recycling logos on their sides, filled by conscientious Americans with soup cans, beer ...

Eye on OIRA: King Coal

by Rena Steinzor | February 26, 2010
Thirty-eight years ago today, the dam holding back a massive coal-slurry impoundment (government-speak for a big pit filled with sludge) located in the middle of Buffalo Creek gave way, spilling 131 million gallons of black wastewater down the steep hills of West Virginia. The black waters eventually crested at 30 feet, washing away people, their houses, and their possessions. By the end of the catastrophe, 125 people were dead, 1,121 were injured, and more than 4,000 were left homeless. Interviewed ...

Tennessee Coal Ash Cleanup Update: Where On-Target Is Still Depressing News

by Ben Somberg | February 18, 2010
Just to give you an idea of the scope of the situation in Tennessee: More than 3 million cubic yards of coal ash were released into the waterways in the Kingston coal ash disaster in late 2008. This week comes news from cleanup officials that the removal of that waste is 70 percent complete. The EPA's PowerPoint shows that removal of the coal ash from the river is slightly ahead of forecast (slide 16). So, just a half million cubic ...

EPA's Cooperative Approach on Coal Ash Nets "Action Plans" From Industry -- But Here's What EPA Could Really be Doing With Existing Authority

by James Goodwin | February 17, 2010
In 2008 alone, coal-fired power plants produced some 136 million tons of coal ash waste – dangerous stuff, because it contains arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and a host of other toxins that are a significant threat to basic human health. Ironically, coal ash has been growing as a problem in recent years in part because better pollution-control devices capture more toxic contaminants before they go up power plant smokestacks. Last year, around 55 percent of the stuff was piled up in ...

Eye on OIRA: The 121st Day and Coal Ash Still Going to Pits in the Ground

by Rena Steinzor | February 12, 2010
Tomorrow will be the 120th day since the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) began its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) star-crossed proposal to declare coal ash that is not safely recycled to be a hazardous waste. The number is significant because it marks the end of OIRA’s allotted review period for the proposal, under the Executive Order that governs OIRA. The date will likely come and go without fanfare. By rights, OIRA ought to ...

Eye on OIRA: Coal Ash Visits by Regulation Foes Up to 28; OIRA’s Open Door Policy Creates Double Standard for Special Interests, Flouting Obama Ethics Initiatives

by Rena Steinzor | February 10, 2010
According to recent statements from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) press office, Administrator Cass Sunstein and staff are adamantly committed to granting an audience with OIRA senior staff to anyone who asks to see them about anything, and most especially pending health and safety rules. So not only are special interests granted second, third, fourth, and fifth audiences with OIRA staff after far more qualified political appointees and technical experts at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency ...

Congress and Coal Ash: Who are the Constituents?

by Ben Somberg | January 27, 2010
Sue Sturgis has a nifty post at Facing South checking in on the doings of members of congress who represent states or districts that have cases of groundwater pollution from coal ash sites. Writes Sturgis: On July 9, 2007, EPA's Office of Solid Waste published a report titled "Coal Combustion Damage Case Assessments" [pdf] documenting 24 cases of proven environmental damage and 43 cases of potential damage caused by current coal ash disposal practices nationwide. As it turns out, many ...

Coal Ash First Real Test of Obama Commitment to Health and Safety Regulation

by Rena Steinzor | January 20, 2010
A critical test of the Obama Administration’s commitment to reviving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is teeing up behind closed doors at the White House. Once again, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is cast in the role of regulation killer, supported by a slew of state and other federal agencies that are polluters in this scenario. Other players include a nearly hysterical segment of the electric utility industry, which argues that labeling coal ash as a hazardous waste ...

NYT Editorializes on Coal Ash Debate

by Ben Somberg | January 20, 2010
The New York Times editorial page weighed in on coal ash today, saying: The [EPA’s] recommendations, which have not been made public, are now the focus of a huge dispute inside the Obama administration, with industry lobbying hard for changes that would essentially preserve the status quo. The dispute should be resolved in favor of the environment and public safety. ... This debate is being conducted behind closed doors, mainly at the Office of Management and Budget, where industry usually ...

Coal Ash Odds and Ends

by Ben Somberg | January 19, 2010
Two developments to note on coal ash from recent days: OIRA extended its review of EPA's not-yet-publicly-proposed regulation on coal ash. That gives it an additional 30-days from the previous Jan 14 deadline. Matthew Madia explains at The Fine Print. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson mentioned coal ash in an appearance Thursday, saying, "There has been a lot of hullabaloo over coal ash, and I'm disappointed that some of the folks, especially on the industry side, haven't taken the time to ...

Back to the Future: OMB Intervention in Coal Ash Rule Replicates the Bush Administration's Way of Doing Business

by Sidney Shapiro | January 11, 2010
As reported in a post Saturday, OMB has become the epicenter for industry efforts to head off an EPA regulation concerning coal ash. There have been 17 meetings between industry interests and OMB officials. When questioned about the large number of meetings, an OMB spokesman said, "This has been a very regular, very normal deliberative process on a very complex rule.” For progressives who had hoped that OMB in the Obama administration would not replicate OMB in the Bush administration, ...

WSJ Says White House and EPA at Odds on Coal Ash; Industry Meetings with OIRA on Issue at 17 and Counting

by James Goodwin | January 09, 2010
"White House, EPA at Odds Over Coal-Waste Rules" reads a headline in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. It's worth a look. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has in fact continued to host meetings with outside groups regarding EPA’s work on a rule for controlling the disposal of hazardous coal ash waste. Since my last post on this topic, OIRA has hosted 10 more meetings on this topic. (These latest meetings were held between December 9 and ...

Tennessee Coal Ash Disaster Anniversary -- News Roundup

by Ben Somberg | December 22, 2009
One year ago today, about 1 billion gallons of coal ash were spilled when a dyke collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority's fossil plant in Kingston, Tennessee. The Knoxville News-Sentinel has the moment-by-moment account of what happened that night. They report that Roane County real estate and tourism have suffered, and that there are 14 lawsuits pending against TVA in relation to the disaster, which will likely take years to resolve. And they editorialize: TVA and the EPA have vowed ...

While EPA Delays Decision on Coal Ash, Industry and White House Busy With Backdoor Meetings on Issue, Documents Show

by James Goodwin | December 18, 2009
While the EPA announced Thursday that it was delaying a decision on issuing a proposed rule for coal ash, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has already hosted 10 meetings with industry representatives in recent months on the issue. The 10 meetings -- the most on any topic at OIRA so far in the Obama Administration, according to records on its website -- were completely outside of EPA's rulemaking process. In that process, once a proposed ...

Like Christmas Shopping Season, the Battle Over Rules at OIRA Begins Earlier and Earlier Every Year

by James Goodwin | November 11, 2009
When the Electric Power Research Institute (ERPI)—the research arm of the U.S. power industry—met with OIRA last month to discuss the various “beneficial uses” of spent coal ash from power plants, their timing was impeccable.  Or so it would seem.  On the day of the meeting, October 16, EPA submitted for OIRA review its pre-rule proposals regarding the regulation of coal ash disposal under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  In reality, the meeting demonstrates how eager regulated industries ...

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