[Marxism] E.P.A. to Roll Back Rules to Control Toxic Ash from Coal Plants
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 1 07:19:11 MDT 2019
NY Times, Nov. 1, 2019
E.P.A. to Roll Back Rules to Control Toxic Ash from Coal Plants
By Lisa Friedman
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is expected to roll back an
Obama-era regulation meant to limit the leaching of heavy metals like
arsenic, lead and mercury into water supplies from the ash of coal-fired
power plants, according to two people familiar with the plans.
With a series of new rules expected in the coming days, the
Environmental Protection Agency will move to weaken the 2015 regulation
that would have strengthened inspection and monitoring at coal plants,
lowered acceptable levels of toxic effluent and required plants to
install new technology to protect water supplies from contaminated coal ash.
The E.P.A. will relax some of those requirements and exempt a
significant number of power plants from any of the requirements,
according to the two people familiar with the Trump administration plan,
who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about
the new rules.
The move is part of a series of deregulatory efforts by the Trump
administration aimed at extending the lives of old, coal-fired power
plants that have been shutting down in the face of competition from
cheaper natural gas and renewable energy generators. Coal ash, the
residue produced from burning coal, was dumped for years in holding
areas near power plants, largely without regulation, but it came to the
public’s attention after spills in North Carolina and Tennessee sent
mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals from the ash into water
“We support reasonable regulations for coal ash and non-coal-ash
byproducts that protect health and the environment,” said Michelle
Bloodworth, president and chief executive of the American Coalition for
Clean Coal Electricity, an industry group. “At the same time, it is
important that regulations not cause unnecessary retirements or idling
of coal-fired power plants because they are necessary to ensure that
consumers have a reliable, resilient, and affordable electricity supply.”
Environmental groups warned that the regulatory rollback could lead to
contaminated drinking water and birth defects, cancer and stunted brain
development in young children. Energy analysts said the administration’s
latest gambit to bolster the industry would not save the industry from
its long decline.
“While it might keep some existing coal plants running a little bit
longer, it’s at best a Band-Aid on a bullet wound that the market has
sent the coal industry,” said Joshua Rhodes, a senior energy analyst
with Vibrant Clean Energy, a clean technology consultancy based in Colorado.
A spokesman for the E.P.A. did not respond to a request for comment.
The Obama-era rule came partially in response to a 2008 disaster in
Tennessee when a containment pond ruptured at the Kingston Fossil Plant.
More than 1.1 billion gallons of coal-ash slurry spilled into nearby
rivers and destroyed homes.
In 2014, a broken pipe spilled millions of gallons of liquefied coal ash
from a retired power plant into the Dan River in North Carolina. It
turned the water into dark sludge and threatened drinking water
supplies. The electric utility Duke Energy later agreed to pay a $6
million fine for violating water protection laws. The spill also
prompted the passage of a new state law in North Carolina that requires
all coal ash storage ponds be closed by 2029.
Utility companies and coal industry supporters say the Obama
administration overreacted to those events, in large part because the
administration wanted to force the closure of coal-fired power plants by
eliminating ways of disposing of coal ash.
Environmentalists vehemently disagreed. Lisa Evans, general counsel for
Earthjustice, an environmental group, called the E.P.A.’s plan “a huge
step backward and incredibly dangerous.”
Agency officials held a conference call Tuesday with supporters of the
Trump administration’s deregulatory efforts to discuss the measure,
multiple people on the call confirmed.
According to the E.P.A., about 1.1 million Americans live within three
miles of a coal plant that discharges pollutants into a public waterway.
The 2015 rule set deadlines for power plants to invest in modern
wastewater treatment technology to keep toxic pollution out of local
waterways. The regulation also required them to monitor local water
quality and make more of the information publicly available. The Obama
administration estimated the regulations would stop about 1.4 billion
pounds of toxic metals and other pollutants from pouring into rivers and
But the rule would have also raised the cost of operating the plants,
further endangering their economic viability.
One person familiar with the E.P.A.’s current plans said the agency
intended to say that the new rule would remove more pollutants than the
Obama-era regulation. That assertion is based on an analysis that
assumes about 30 percent of power plants will voluntarily chose to
install more rigorous technology.
The new rule also will confine the areas that utilities must measure for
leakage, according to a second person familiar with the plans.
Power plants were originally required to start complying with the
requirements by as early as November 2018, but Scott Pruitt, President
Trump’s first E.P.A. administrator, postponed compliance until 2020,
saying the agency was providing “relief” to utilities as it reviewed the
Environmental groups have challenged that delay and said they would also
challenge the rollback.
A recent study by environmental groups found that more than 90 percent
of the 265 coal plants required to test their groundwater near coal ash
dumps discovered unsafe levels of at least one contaminant. According
to environmental groups that track the problem, power plants discharge
more than 1 billion pounds of pollutants every year into 4,000 miles of
rivers, contaminating the drinking water and fisheries of 2.7 million
“That knowledge should lead E.P.A. to move to establish greater
protections for our health,” Ms. Evans said. “But E.P.A. is running the
other way under the direction of the utilities.”
This year, the E.P.A. proposed a number of separate amendments to the
coal-ash regulations, including extending by 18 months the time that
industry could use certain sites adjacent to groundwater areas for
dumping. Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A. and a former
lobbyist for the coal industry, said in a statement at the time that the
relaxed rules would save affected utility companies $28 million to $31
million a year in regulatory costs.
“Our actions mark a significant departure from the one-size-fits-all
policies of the past and save tens of millions of dollars in regulatory
costs, Mr. Wheeler said then in a statement.
Kevin Book, managing director at Clearview Energy Partners, a research
firm, said the E.P.A.’s actions could help a few companies increase the
supply of coal-fired electricity but would not help the broader coal
industry, which has seen demand for its product decline sharply.
“You can’t stimulate demand for something that’s been shut down
already,” he said.
Environmental activists said they intended to challenge the rollbacks in
court, something they will be able to do when E.P.A. issues a final
rule, most likely early next year.
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