EPA to rollback Obama-era coal ash regulations that safeguard Americans

"Instead of having a single strong national set of public health protections for this polluting industry, we are going to be left with federal regulations that are riddled with loopholes."

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The Trump administration started rolling back safeguards on how coal powerplants dispose of and store toxic waste. Set in 2015 by the Obama administration to help protect local waterways, the EPA will relax the requirements and rules exempting many plants from enacting them.

The Trump administration plans to roll back many regulations that “placed heavy burdens on electricity producers across the country, Andrew Wheeler, EPA administrator said.

From contaminated water to coal ash—a byproduct produced by the powerplants consisting of arsenic, mercury and heavy metals—coal plant pollutants affect more than 1 million Americans who live within three miles of a coal plant, according to EPA estimates. And a report published by the Environmental Integrity Project found pollutants from coal ash was leaking into groundwater at more than 200 plants across the country and 90 percent of them were leaking contaminants “exceeding EPA health standards,” which was based on data used to create the 2015 rule. NPR reported.

Some Obama-era requirements that the Trump administration plans to relax are restrictions on coal ash and wastewater. One of the rules finalized in 2015 under the Obama administration was to close any unlined coal ash ponds in 2018. Coal-fired power plants were required to line coal ash ponds to keep them from leaking toxic waste into groundwater as well as acquiring better waste management technology. But the EPA’s recent rule change under the Trump administration would give plants up to five more years to adhere to these requirements before being shut down, NPR reported.

Also, changes to the discharge of wastewater from coal plants would relax the limits placed on the amount of pollutants allowed in wastewater ultimately allowing more toxic waste out.

“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,” Wheeler said in a statement.

The EPA said compliance costs to the industry would decrease by $175 million and a voluntary incentive program has the ability to prevent 105 million pounds of pollutants discharged each year.

But environmentalist said the rollback would allow power plants to continue to pollute because of lagged federal regulations.

“Instead of having a single strong national set of public health protections for this polluting industry, we are going to be left with federal regulations that are riddled with loopholes,” Tom Cmar, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, said.

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