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article imageEPA targets more coal ash and waste rules as roll-backs continue

By Karen Graham     Nov 5, 2019 in Environment
Washington - The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed relaxing two Obama-era regulations on waste products from coal-fired power plants, a move environmental groups say would prolong the risk of toxic spills or drinking water contamination.
This is another attempt by the Trump administration to prop up the ailing coal industry, which is already on its last leg as more coal-fired power plants are retired and more coal companies are turning to bankruptcy protection.
And with the next presidential election just 12 months away, the move may also represent the start of a final-year long deregulatory push by Trump to get rid of any and all regulations and rules former President Barack Obama initiated to protect the environment and people's health.
The EPA wants to relax Obama-era rules from 2015 dealing with the disposal of toxic wastewater and coal ash from the power plants. Coal ash, a mix of fine powder and sludge that is a by-product of burning coal - commonly stored in unlined pits and landfills.
Failure of a coal ash pond in December 2008 at the Kingston Fossil in Tennessee spilled more than 1 ...
Failure of a coal ash pond in December 2008 at the Kingston Fossil in Tennessee spilled more than 1 billion gallons of coal ash into waterways.
Tennessee Valley Authority
The wastewater from coal-fired power plants can contain dangerous metals such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, lead, and selenium that are don't destroyed when coal is burned. A power plant will generate from 100 to more than 300 pounds of ash for every ton of coal it burns, or 150,000 to 450,000 tons from a large generator burning about three million tons of coal annually.
That residue is often flushed with water out of boilers and the pollution control equipment that removes particulates from smokestacks and into settling ponds that must regularly discharge wastewater to keep from over-filling.
Obama-era rules out the window
The Trump administration says the 2015 Obama-era rules are too expensive for operators because it was discovered that "more surface impoundments regardless of liner type are leaking" today compared to the Obama administration's estimate four years ago.
New Environmental Protection Agency rules have incensed Republicans  particularly lawmakers from coa...
New Environmental Protection Agency rules have incensed Republicans, particularly lawmakers from coal-producing states, who say the economic cost of the endeavor would cripple industry
George Frey, Getty/AFP/File
Based on this assessment, it would make sense to do something immediately before a disaster ensues, but the EPA instead is going to give coal-fired plant operators several additional years to come into compliance with the rules, while relaxing the regulations for coal ash and wastewater, in particular.
Ninety-two percent of coal ash ponds are leaking, according to Lisa Evans of the environmental law organization Earthjustice, which opposes the proposals. "So much more harm is occurring than the Obama EPA expected," Evans told CNN.
"These proposed revisions support the Trump administration's commitment to responsible, reasonable regulations by taking a commonsense [sic] approach, which also protects public health and the environment," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
"With this dangerous new proposal, the Trump administration has made explicit what has been obvious from day one: Industry profits are more important to the administration than people's health or clean water," said Thomas Cmar, deputy managing attorney of the Earthjustice Coal Program. "These rules are supposed to safeguard our water from toxic pollution, but the laundry list of loopholes proposed by the Trump EPA threatens to completely undo the protections."
Both new proposals face a 60 day public comment period and public hearings before they can become final.
More about Epa, coalfired power plants, coal ash, wastewater spill, Obamaera rules
 
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