Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: EPA proposes scrapping limits on coal plant waste | Appointee overseeing federal lands once advocated selling them | EPA lifts Obama-era block on controversial mine

Greg Nash

EPA TO EASE COAL ASH RULES: 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. 

“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.{mosads}

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.

Read more about the proposal here


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PEBBLE MINE IS A GO: The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday it will reverse an Obama-era decision to block a controversial Alaska mine project.

“After today’s action EPA will focus on the permit review process for the Pebble Mine project” Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick said in a statement.

“The agency has worked closely with the Army Corps to engage with stakeholders and the public on this issue, which has resulted in an expansive public record, including specific information about the proposed mining project that did not exist in 2014,” Hladick added.

While the EPA is withdrawing the 2014 determination, which it wrote “was issued preemptively and is now outdated,” the withdrawal does not constitute an approval of the permit application or a determination in the permitting process.

“Instead, it allows EPA to continue working with the Corps to review the current permit application and engage in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process,” the statement reads.

The EPA announced in June it would resume consideration of the mining project, which former EPA head Scott Pruitt had also promised.

“Today’s step is a move toward good government decision making, which we owe under the law to both the public and project proponents,” EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold said in a June statement.

The Obama EPA said the proposed mine would have a harmful effect on streams that feed Bristol Bay, which includes the world’s largest salmon fishery, and in 2018 Pruitt announced the EPA would not seek to do away with the Obama-era decision.

“Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection,” Pruitt said at the time.


NEW DIRECTOR AT BLM: The new head of the Interior Department’s public lands agency once championed selling off federally-owned plots.

William Perry Pendley, a conservative lawyer from Wyoming, on Monday became the top official leading the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management–the agency that oversees 12 percent of all U.S. land.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt quietly signed a secretarial order Monday that effectively made Pendley acting director of BLM. 

The staffing shake up came after Pendley was unceremoniously moved to the post of Deputy Director of BLM Policy and Programs last week, among the agency’s highest positions.

News of the move was largely determined through a change to BLM’s organization chart posted to its website. Interior has not returned calls for comment.

Bernhardt’s secretarial order Monday called for a “temporary redelegation of authority for certain vacant non-career senate-confirmed positions.” 

The positions listed, including Pendley’s, would become “acting by operation of law.”

New chief’s background: Pendley first joined the Interior Department last week. Previously, he was the president of Wyoming based Mountain States Legal Foundation, a group that in part advocated for the selling off millions of acres of federal lands out West.

The company’s website hails its work as “a non-profit, public interest law firm, focused on defending the constitution, protecting property rights, and advancing economic liberty.”

Pendley’s name was among those flagged last year as potential replacements to former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who left the agency in January. Multiple former Interior heads have come from the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Pendley is the latest in a long line of acting directors at BLM. Previously Casey Hammond, the Interior Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, served in the post. Before that, Michael Need, deputy director of operations, served in the role for seven months in 2017.

BLM under the microscope: Pendley’s appointment comes as Interior and BLM are facing heavy scrutiny for their management of public lands and their employees.

The BLM manages 245 million acres of public lands. Last week Interior sparked condemnation for submitting plans for Utah’s Bears Ears national monument that would open remaining lands for development after drastically shrinking the protection area in 2017.

The BLM in mid-July also submitted plans to relocate the majority of its agency staff outside of Washington, D.C., a move critics say will weaken the voices of career employees. 

Conservation groups largely derided Pendley’s post.

“William Perry Pendley is an ideological zealot whose views are deeply out of touch with the American mainstream,” said Phil Hanceford, conservation director for The Wilderness Society.  

“His ascending to the top of BLM just as it is being reorganized strongly suggests the administration is positioning itself to liquidate our shared public lands.”

Read more about the appointment shakeup here



-The House Natural Resource Committee received confirmation that their investigation of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s email use has been rolled into a larger criminal probe being conducted by the Department of Justice. 

-Leaders of that committee also penned a letter to the Department of the Interior asking the agency to turn over documents tied to its decision to roll back protections for offshore drilling.

-Twenty-two attorneys general wrote to congressional leadership of both parties asking for action addressing PFAS contamination.



-Connecticut’s plastic bag ban takes effect this week, the Hartford Courant reports.

-Wisconsin’s governor established a coordinator position to address lead poisoning, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

-Nebraska is asking for a national review of a dam collapse, the Omaha World-Herald reports.



Stories from Tuesday…

-EPA proposal scraps limits on coal plant waste

-India’s tiger population surges to nearly 3,000 cats, bringing hope for endangered species

-EPA kills proposed Obama-era Pebble mine ‘veto’

-Latest appointee overseeing federal public lands once advocated to sell them

-Rising ocean temps have killed one-third of Guam’s coral reefs: researchers

-FEMA confirms thousands of expired water bottles left on farmland in Puerto Rico

Tags coal ash Department of the Interior Environmental Protection Agency EPA Pebble Mine Ryan Zinke Scott Pruitt
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