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Environmentalists Condemn EPA Coal-Ash Proposal

In 2014 a broken pipe in North Carolina released 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. (EPA/WikimediaCommons)
In 2014 a broken pipe in North Carolina released 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. (EPA/WikimediaCommons)
April 23, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Environmental groups say changes proposed by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt would gut federal coal-ash regulations put in place in 2015.

Coal ash contains toxic pollutants such as arsenic, lead and radioactive elements, many of which have no federal maximum contaminant level for drinking water. According to Lisa Evans, senior administrative counsel with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, the current regulations require leaks from coal-ash dumps to be cleaned up before they reach drinking water supplies.

"What Pruitt would like to do is to allow states or the polluters themselves to set their own standards for those chemicals that don't have a federal MCL,” Evans said.

The EPA will be holding a public hearing on the proposed changes in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday. Public comment on the proposed changes ends April 30.

The EPA estimates that the changes would save electric utilities up to $100 million per year in compliance costs.

But Evans pointed out that the new regulation goes further than giving states discretion in setting limits on toxic pollutants from coal ash in drinking water. A close reading of the fine print revealed a critical omission.

"They didn't require that the state or the polluters consider the health of children,” she said. “So that will allow them to set those levels at a higher standard, which is even more damaging to children."

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of coal-ash pollutants. But the words "sensitive subgroups," which includes children, have been deleted from the regulation.

Evans maintains there is no scientific basis for the proposed rule, which she said is being rushed through at the request of the electric utilities. And this rule change could just be the beginning.

"We are expecting the Trump administration to come out with a second rule, they said in September,” she said. “So, it's a one-two punch against public health and safety."

Evans said once the EPA issues a final rule, public interest groups will be looking for a legal basis to challenge it in the courts.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA