The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed regulation on Monday that would give coal-fired power plants additional time to comply with two different Obama-era rules.
The proposal would modify a 2015 rule that required utilities to clean coal ash and toxic heavy metals from wastewater before disposing of it.
Coal ash waste is sometimes stored in unlined pits or ponds near power plants, and dangerous heavy metals can seep into groundwater and waterways.
The Clean Water Rule of 2015 also established Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Pretreatment Standards that limited wastewater discharges into surface waters and wastewater treatment plants.
The EPA proposed giving the facilities until Aug. 31, 2020, to come into compliance with this Coal Combustion Residuals rule and until the end of 2028 to implement new wastewater disposal standards, Reuters reported.
Although the Trump administration had delayed these rules, the formal proposal from the EPA became necessary after a 2018 court decision overturned some of the 2015 EPA’s provisions.
“Today’s proposed actions were triggered by court rulings and petitions for reconsideration on two 2015 rules that placed heavy burdens on electricity producers across the country,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
“We are providing both at the same time in order to provide more certainty to the American public,” he said. “These proposed revisions support the Trump Administration’s commitment to responsible, reasonable regulations by taking a commonsense approach, which also protects public health and the environment.”
The EPA said its proposal would take a “flexible, phased-in implementation approach” to the rule.
The agency estimated that the plan would save utilities over $175 million a year and reduce the number of pollutants discharged in water by approximately 105 million pounds per year compared with the Obama-era rules.
Many state officials praised the administration’s proposal.
“We applaud the Trump EPA’s latest efforts to protect coal mining and the livelihoods of those who depend on its success in West Virginia,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said, according to the EPA release. “The proposed regulations will improve the regulatory burden on the coal industry and lower the cost of electricity for West Virginians.”
Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely added that the guidelines “enable states to develop a workable regulatory framework for coal combustion residuals and effluent guidelines while still protecting the environment.”
However, Thomas Cmar, an attorney for environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, said the EPA is “allowing the power industry to continue dumping toxic contaminants in our waterways at the expense of public health,” according to The Associated Press.
“Instead of taking the data into account and recognizing these rules need to be made stronger, this administration has been turning a blind eye to the facts,” Cmar said, according to Reuters.
The EPA said it will be holding two 60-day public comment periods on the proposals and a virtual public hearing for each of the new rules.
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