EPA eases rules on how coal ash waste is stored across U.S.:

EPA eases rules on how coal ash waste is stored across U.S.:

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule Tuesday to overhaul requirements for handling the toxic waste produced by burning coal, providing more flexibility to state and industry officials who had sought a rollback of restrictions put in place in 2015.

The far-reaching rule will dictate how coal ash, which has contaminated waterways in two high-profile spills in Tennessee and North Carolina in the past decade, is stored at more than 400 coal-fired power plants around the country.

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.

Wheeler worked for several years as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, which supported reconsideration of the coal ash rule, before joining the administration this spring. He said in an interview with The Washington Post this month that he has not lobbied EPA directly for several years, though he lobbied other government departments since President Trump took office.

The Obama administration negotiated for years with environmental groups, electric utilities and other affected industries about how to address coal waste, which can poison wildlife and lead to respiratory illnesses among those living near storage sites. The 2015 rule increased inspections and monitoring of coal ash disposal sites and required measures such as liners in new waste pits to prevent leaks that might threaten nearby drinking water supplies.

Tuesday’s rule — which will be followed by a second one, most likely next year, to address how to recycle coal ash to make concrete, gypsum wallboard and pavement — incorporated several requests from industry. For example, it would allow a state to suspend groundwater monitoring if it determines that there are no leaks, contamination or migration of contaminants that can be detected.

And while the initial proposal required a professional engineer to issue a certification of compliance for coal ash storage sites, the new rule will allow state authorities to sign off on it instead.


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