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US coal-ash waste regulations under threat

Coal-Burning Power Plants Find a Friend at the EPA

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 10 Jun 2017

While the world gasps at Trump’s blustery exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, which will take four years to actually do, his Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt is removing the safeguards on our air and water.

This time, Pruitt has put the brakes on compliance to the regulation of coal-ash waste while his agency considers rescinding the rule altogether. The regulation, known as Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category Rule (ELG), went into effect in November 2015, with compliance expected to begin three years later.

Coal-burning power plants produced 130 million tons of it in 2014, according to the American Coal Ash Association. Power companies have been burning coal for energy for decades and throwing the waste into ponds and pits next to waterways and communities. But the Clean Water Act and the specific regulations of the ELG marked the first time federal limits of these toxins from coal-ash waste were imposed on the steam electric power plants that produced it.

That law also marked the first time power plants were held accountable on a federal level to inform communities of what kind of pollution comes out of these landfills and coal-ash ponds, a term that is almost quaint, considering they can be acres upon acres of toxic sludge containing arsenic and high levels of mercury and lead, to name a few contaminants.

The rule also empowered citizens to sue companies within the environmental laws to get some kind of cleanup and help from the coal power plant companies who have caused the pollution, Dalal Aboulhosn, Legislative Director for Land and Water at The Sierra Club, told DCReport.

Communities living with coal-ash waste not properly handled have seen increases in several forms of cancer, strokes and respiratory diseases. And in many places, they have also watched their home values reduced to zero as a direct result of the pollution, Aboulhosn said.


The polluters don’t want to have to pay to comply with regulations, even modest ones. So back in late March, the Utility Water Act Group (UWAG), a consortium of 163 energy companies and three national trade associations of energy companies, petitioned Pruitt and the EPA to reconsider this rule, claiming high costs and potential loss of jobs.

On April 5, the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy submitted its own petition for the EPA to rethink the rule and compliance deadlines, stating the rule’s technology-based standards to control wastewater would “impose expensive costs that outweigh benefits”. The EPA estimated that about 12% of steam power plants would incur some costs and that costs for compliance would total around $550 million annually. But compliance would reduce coal-ash waste produced by these plants by 1.4 billion pounds annually and trim 57 billion pounds of water withdrawal.