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Groups: New EPA Coal Ash Rule a Step Backwards

The Dan River spill was the third-largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
The Dan River spill was the third-largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
July 20, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. – Environmental groups in North Carolina are figuring out their next move after the Trump Administration this week rolled back some Obama-era regulations regarding coal ash disposal.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new rule will provide utilities and states more flexibility in how coal ash waste is managed, while ensuring human health and environmental protections. However, Earthjustice Senior Administrative Counsel Lisa Evans contends the industry will be able to operate coal ash ponds in dangerous areas that are known to be leaking.

"It allows them to accept more toxic waste for a longer period of time instead of closing,” says Evans. “It allows them to lift monitoring requirements. It lessens the scrutiny that would be placed on technical certifications. All in all, this is a great step backwards for public health and the environment."

Evans says nearly 95 percent of all coal-ash dump sites have contaminated groundwater with toxins deemed by EPA unsafe to drink. Earthjustice and other organizations are examining the new rule and considering a court challenge.

The new rule weakens drinking water protection standards for several hazardous chemicals, including lead, cobalt and lithium. And Evan notes it allows state officials to decide if sites are following regulations, instead of qualified engineers.

"What this rule does, therefore, is politicize the science, allow those decisions to be made by a person now who can be influenced by the industry, who may be in programs that are under-staffed, may not have technical knowledge,” says Evans.

She adds this is just part one of an extended effort to water down the coal-ash rule.

"We will see – perhaps this fall, perhaps early next year,” says Evans, “additional rule makings by EPA that will erode the public health and environmental protections established by the Obama administration."

Here in North Carolina, Duke Energy still continues cleanup work related to the 2014 spill of 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. It was the third-largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NC