The 2015 rule required plants that burn coal to dispose of the fine powder and sludge using wastewater treatment technology in order to prevent about 1.4 billion pounds of coal ash from leaking into waterways. Coal ash often contains arsenic, lead, and mercury toxic to human consumption and the environment.
The new Trump administration rules would allow unlined coal ash waste ponds to remain open until 2027 at the latest.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the old rules “placed heavy burdens on electricity producers across the country.”
“These proposed revisions support the Trump administration’s commitment to responsible, reasonable regulations by taking a common-sense approach that will provide more certainty to U.S. industry while also protecting public health and the environment,” Wheeler said.
Coal companies have complained in court that the Obama-era rules drain their finances, and President Trump has repeatedly pledged to support the industry since running for office.
Environmental advocates have spoken up against the new rules, calling them “unconscionable.”
“Keeping industrial sludge and foul wastewater from coal plants out of our drinking water supplies shouldn’t be something that should be up for debate,” the Sierra Club said when the rule was introduced.
Betsy Southerland, the former director of the Office of Science and Technology in the Office of Water at the EPA, helped develop the rules and now claims that the Trump administration is concealing the resulting benefits.
“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,” said one of the Obama administration rule’s developers,” she said.