Energy & Environment

EPA to reconsider Obama-era coal ash disposal rule

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulators will reconsider portions of an Obama administration rule regulating coal ash, a byproduct of fossil fuel-fired power plants.

The rule, finalized in 2015, set new standards for coal ash disposal sites and boosted inspection and monitoring operations to make sure the sites don’t leak or spill.

Coal ash is a waste product produced by burning coal. It can contain small amounts of toxic chemicals, and is generally stored in ponds or pits near the power plants that burn them.

The EPA’s rule was the first national standard for coal ash disposal, and it came after a series of high-profile spills and leaks.


But President Trump’s EPA said it would reconsider sections of the rule after utilities petitioned the agency.

The Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, an industry organization, and power plant operator AES Puerto Rico asked the EPA to review sections of the rule, including its groundwater compliance and on-site storage provisions.

The EPA said it’s not committing to rewrite the rule, but that it “determined that it was appropriate, and in the public’s interest, to reconsider specific provisions” of it.

“It is important that we give the existing rule a hard look and consider improvements that may help states tailor their permit programs to the needs of their states, in a way that provides greater regulatory certainty, while also ensuring that human health and the environment remain protected,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

Republicans have complained that the coal ash rule carries expensive compliance costs and threatens the viability of coal as a fuel source.

Democrats and environmentalists, meanwhile, pushed the Obama administration to go even further with its coal ash regulation. Obama’s EPA, for instance, did classify coal ash as a hazardous material, a distinction that would have opened the door to stricter regulations but higher compliance costs.

The EPA’s Thursday action is the second it’s taken in two days to review power plant regulations. The agency announced on Wednesday that it would delay compliance deadlines for a rule limiting toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Tags Coal coal ash coal ash regulations Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt
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