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The Associated Press June 23, 2011, 1:35PM ET

W.Va. Sierra Club fights McKinley's coal-ash bill

Environmental activists planned Thursday to picket the Morgantown, W.Va. office of U.S. Rep. David McKinley over a bill they say would strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its power to protect people from toxic coal ash.

The Sierra Club and its supporters say the Republican freshman's congressional district is home to millions of tons of coal ash dumped in strip mines and ponds. The group is one of several currently suing Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. over such a waste site along the Cheat River at its Mon Power plant in Albright. W.Va.

Coal ash contains arsenic, selenium, lead, cadmium, and mercury, and activists worry it could pollute groundwater.

"The Environmental Protection Agency is charged with protecting the health of our citizens. But McKinley says no to that," said the Sierra Club's Jim Sconyers. "His amendment would prohibit the agency from doing anything -- yes, anything -- to set sensible rules to protect people's health from the dangers inherent in unregulated ash disposal."

McKinley says he's trying to protect Americans from unnecessary job losses and high energy costs.

He said the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act would ensure the continued beneficial use of coal waste and strengthen state authority to dispose of the materials.

Coal ash is currently used in the construction and agriculture industries for products such as concrete, drywall and fertilizers.

McKinley's bill is aimed at preventing the Obama administration from attempting to reclassify the materials as hazardous waste. He contends he's trying to protect "potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs."

The bill cleared a subcommittee Tuesday and now goes to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"We must continue to push legislation that will help keep the cost of doing business down and the cost to consumers low if we ever intend to get our country out of this recession," McKinley said.

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