LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Divided Michigan lawmakers on Tuesday voted to allow for the use of coal ash and other industrial byproducts in cement and asphalt, approving legislation that would reclassify certain hazardous wastes for "beneficial use."
The main bill, approved 68-42 mostly along party lines in the Republican-led House, would designate coal ash and other materials as having a low potential for groundwater contamination when properly managed. The ash is a byproduct of coal combustion that poses environmental threats when put in landfills but also is commonly recycled for use in roads and parking lots.
A related bill would shield businesses or people who store byproducts with beneficial uses from legal liability if they follow rules pertaining to shipping and storage.
A Republican sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, said coal ash can be safely encapsulated.
"A lot of this stuff goes into landfills — stamp sands, copper tailings," he said. "But if we can find a use for it that isn't toxic, that isn't harmful ... we've seen many surrounding Great Lakes states using these byproducts in a very safe and thoughtful manner, and that's what we're doing here in Michigan."
Democrats and environmental groups countered that starting next year, utilities will have to prevent 90 percent of the pollutant mercury from entering the air from coal-fired power plants.
"That mercury gets caught up in the coal fly ash. To then spread that coal fly ash under our roads across the state seems like a big mistake that could cause that mercury to get back into our water and our land," said Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor.
The three bills now go to the GOP-controlled Senate. Coal ash is getting the most attention in the legislative debate, but the legislation also would classify cement kiln dust, scrap wood, paper mill pulp, sludge, drywall and other products as "low-hazard" industrial wastes.
Eight House Democrats and an independent joined all 59 Republicans to pass the primary bill. Forty-two Democrats opposed it.
The other bills were approved 66-44.