EPA Revises Obama Era Coal Ash Rules

Following two high profile coal ash spills, the Environmental Protection Agency under Barack Obama instituted new and expensive rules on how the substance was to be stored. On Tuesday, the Trump EPA, under new chief Andrew Wheeler changed the rules, following more of what those in the coal industry suggested as a way to store waste and recycle it into products like cement.

The new standards — the first major rule signed by EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler — will extend the life of some existing ash ponds from April 2019 until October 2020, empower states to suspend groundwater monitoring in certain cases and allow state officials to certify whether utilities’ facilities meet adequate standards. EPA officials estimate that the rule change will save the industry between $28 million and $31 million a year in compliance costs.

“These amendments provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash, while ensuring human health and the environment are protected,” Wheeler said in a statement. “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.”

Industry officials petitioned the Trump administration last year to reconsider existing standards for the fine powder and sludge — which contains mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals — and the new regulation expands on the proposal then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued in March.

What these new rules do is give the states time to come into compliance with some safety regulations. Many of the waste containment facilities are very close to groundwater and wetlands. So long as the containers are not leaking, they do not need monitoring at all times.

Environmental groups did not decry the new rules but are still concerned that pollutants and hard metals do not end up in drinking water due to the changes.

Avner Vengosh, a Duke University expert on the environmental impacts of coal ash, said that scaling back monitoring requirements, in particular, could leave communities vulnerable to potential pollution.

“We have very clear evidence that coal ash ponds are leaking into groundwater sources,” Vengosh said. “The question is, has it reached areas where people use it for drinking water? We just don’t know. That’s the problem.”…

“We will oppose this rollback every step of the way, including in the courts,” Mary Anne Hitt, the head of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said that day. “Weakening these standards is a betrayal of these families across the country who are counting on you.”

Changing to keep costs down and decentralize the entire process…that never seems to come into the thinking of the naysayers.

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.