The Trump administration moved Monday to relax Obama-era limits on coal plants discharging ash- and metal-contaminated waste into waterways, the latest in a series of administration breaks for the lagging USA coal industry and for utilities using coal-fired power plants.
"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.
"It is outrageous that Trump's team is so beholden to polluters that they are willing to let power plants continue to dump lead, mercury, chromium and other risky chemicals into our water supply to preserve every last cent of their profits", Thom Cmar, deputy managing attorney of the coal program at the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said in a statement.
Environmentalists are slamming the proposals as rollbacks that will harm the 6 million people who live within 3 miles of coal-fired power plants.
The EPA has proposed separate rules to lift limitations placed by the Obama administration on the amount of coal ash that can be used in certain types of construction. It is meant to address a federal court decision past year that found the existing Obama-era regulations on coal ash disposal were unlawfully weak because they permitted the indefinite operation of unlined ponds as long as there was no evidence of unsafe groundwater contamination. Today, coal plants are responsible for nearly one-third of all toxic water pollution in the United States' waters. It was projected to cost industry $480 million a year, but save the public roughly the same in benefits, including from lowered health costs.
The Trump rule also makes changes to new requirements the Obama administration set on water used to flush plants of waste left over when coal is burned, known as bottom ash. Earthjustice recently won a lawsuit confirming EPA's duty to strengthen limits on toxic wastewater even on these smaller waste streams.
The Obama-era rule required power plants to treat their wastewater in two ways.
At the same time, the EPA also proposed further weakening of a coal ash rule (Coal Combustion Residuals Rule) to allow primitive, leaking waterfront coal ash lagoons to keep operating and polluting longer. "These obsolete unlined, leaking pits pollute our water and threaten catastrophes every time there is a hurricane, flood, or a storm".
The report was based on data made available by the 2015 coal ash rule. That water had to be treated and reused, rather than drawing fresh water from a nearby waters source and then discharging the contaminated water back.
Scrubber sludge: Smokestack scrubbers are important pollution controls that have kept many toxins out of the air, but without effective treatment of the water used to clean them, the net effect is simply to transfer pollution from one place to another.
The changes, the EPA said, would provide "regulatory clarity and flexibility" for companies, but environmental advocates instead accused the administration of putting industry profits ahead of public health. Citing lower compliance costs, the Trump rule would allow power plants to use a shorter biological treatment process, which would result in the higher selenium levels. It's "allowing the power industry to continue dumping toxic contaminants in our waterways at the expense of public health". This proposal ignores both recent court rulings and the Clean Water Act itself. Coal plants were originally supposed to comply with the ordinance by 2018 but the EPA first delayed its implementation in 2017 under the Trump administration.
Because there are coal plants across the nation, the rollback of the 2015 rule will negatively impact most Americans, robbing them of the hope of relief from updated pollution control standards.