EPA proposal scraps limits on coal plant waste

EPA proposal scraps limits on coal plant waste
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The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed scrapping restrictions on arsenic-laden waste from coal-fired power plants. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed lifting some regulations on coal ash, the residue left after burning coal, which is filled with hazardous substances that can leach into the water supply and cause health problems. 

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“I can say without hesitation that this is an extremely dangerous proposal that will do lasting harm to communities near coal ash reuse sites and coal ash waste piles,” said Lisa Evans, senior counsel with Earthjustice.

Coal ash is used in a variety of ways, largely as a replacement for soil. It can be used to create level ground for construction projects or sprinkled over landfills as a protective cover. 

But coal ash has been deemed responsible for contaminating water with arsenic, which is linked with some types of cancer.

The latest proposal from the EPA would eliminate restrictions from 2015 that limited coal ash use to 12,400 tons per site. 

The Trump administration proposal would allow projects to use as much coal ash as they want but would have to file a demonstration that shows the project won’t cause harm if it’s close to certain features like groundwater or wetlands.

But Evans said that’s not a realistic safeguard.

“That demonstration doesn’t have to be defended to any regulatory agency or be posted for public notice or be written by any engineer or environmental professional,” Evans said. “You’ve got a fairly meaningless demo having to be created.”

The EPA said the regulations would help spur “beneficial use” — the term for new uses for what would otherwise be industry waste.

“Today the Agency is proposing sensible changes that will improve the coal ash regulations and continue to encourage appropriate beneficial use,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA chief arrives in Israel for water management conference House committee hits EPA with subpoenas Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule MORE said in a statement. “These proposed changes will further responsible management of coal ash while protecting human health and the environment.”

The proposal includes some features that would make reporting requirements more accessible to the public, but environmentalists ultimately see the move as a bow to industry.

“Despite compelling and damning scientific evidence highlighting the harm to groundwater from coal ash, and court victories by community groups requiring the EPA to strengthen the 2015 rule, Wheeler is giving this gift to his former employers at the cost of public health,” Earthjustice and the Sierra Club said in a statement. “It is a disgrace to everything the EPA stands for, and we will do everything in our power to stop it.”