[Marxism] E.P.A. to Roll Back Rules to Control Toxic Ash from Coal Plants

Louis Proyect 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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