By Elizabeth E. Payne
In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to dramatically change the regulations that monitor how coal ash is disposed of and stored. Coal ash is the toxic byproduct of burning coal for electricity.
After utilities spent more than $100 million lobbying against the Obama-era regulations, the current administration has proposed giving more authority to states to regulate coal ash impoundment sites, pushing back deadlines for compliance with the federal rule and potentially revising the rules for how storage sites are built and operated.
“Today’s coal ash proposal embodies EPA’s commitment to our state partners by providing them with the ability to incorporate flexibilities into their coal ash permit programs based on the needs of their states,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement when the plan was announced.
The federal agency estimates that the new rules would save utility companies between $31 million and $100 million annually in costs associated with complying to the stricter regulations.
Concurrently, analysis of groundwater monitoring samples taken in compliance with the Obama-era rules found elevated levels of cancer-causing, radioactive isotopes near unlined coal ash ponds nationwide.
“The data clearly show that nationwide we have a significant problem,” Lisa Evans — senior counsel at Earthjustice, an environmental legal group — told InsideClimate News.