EPA Proposes Weakening Rules for Coal Ash and Related Pollutants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 4 proposed two rollbacks on pollution limits for coal-fired power plants. In an attempt to keep the coal industry afloat, the changes would alter regulations established by the Obama administration in 2015.

The existing rules set up procedures to manage coal-burning wastes, such as calling for unlined coal ash ponds to be closed by April 2019 and requiring utilities to test for groundwater contamination near the pits. However, the Trump administration had already pushed pond closure deadlines to October 2020, and the new proposal would delay some closings even longer.

In North Carolina and Virginia, the state governments are requiring utilities to remove coal ash from unlined ponds.

Obama’s EPA also enacted a rule that tightened restrictions on wastewater from coal-fired power plants. The current EPA proposes to loosen this coal effluent rule, potentially creating loopholes that would allow electric companies to release untreated or partially treated fluids into public waterways.

The EPA is holding a 60-day public comment period and a virtual public hearing for each proposal. Submit comments on the wastewater rule here and on the coal ash storage rule here.

The agency is pushing several other changes that would affect coal-fired power plants. Regarding the federal Superfund cleanup program, the EPA is developing a determination that would release electric utilities from a requirement to confirm they have the funds to cover potential toxic waste clean-ups.

The EPA is also working to change the way it calculates the health impacts of regulations on air toxins, including mercury. Public health and environmental advocates are concerned this is part of an attempt to weaken mercury limits. — By Rachael Kelley


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