The Environmental Protection Agency is curtailing Obama-era rules that required power plants to invest in wastewater treatment technology in order to prevent potentially poisonous coal ash from seeping into rivers.
The 2015 rule sought to deal with coal ash, which is the residue that is left over from coal-fired power plants that contain mercury, arsenic, and other heavy metals that could pose risks to human health.
Coal ash is stored in waste ponds that do not contain liners. Critics say that allows the ash-laden wastewater to seep into underground aquifers.
Originally, coal-fired plants were required by the 2015 rule to comply with it by 2018 but the EPA delayed its implementation in 2017 after President Trump took office.
The latest decision gives the plants an additional eight years before they have to comply, if they file a petition to delay.
“The 2015 rule being replaced today documented that coal fired power plants discharge over 1 billion pounds of pollutants every year into 4,000 miles of rivers, contaminating the drinking water and fisheries of 2.7 million people,” former director of the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology Betsy Southerland said.
“EPA hides the detrimental impacts of these relaxed requirements and exemptions by stating they will achieve lower pollutant loadings because about 30 percent of the plants will voluntarily install treatment that is more stringent than the rule requirements.”
Several power plants filed federal lawsuits claiming they could not afford to comply with the rule.
Some power companies that use coal-fired plants have filed for bankruptcy in recent months, including coal companies.
Murray Energy Corp., the nation’s fifth-largest coal producer, is one of them. President Trump attempted to subsidize that company, including its power plants, but the plan was rejected by regulators.