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EPA Announces Plans to Lift Regulations on Toxic Coal Ash

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019   

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Tuesday it plans to lift some Obama-era regulations on the use of coal ash.

Because it's cheaper, coal ash often is used as a replacement for soil in construction projects, but it's also been found to contaminate water with arsenic, which is linked to some types of cancer.

The EPA is proposing that projects could use as much coal ash as they want, if they can demonstrate it won't cause harm to groundwater or wetlands.

However, attorney Lisa Evans, a senior counsel with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said a project using coal ash would not need to defend its decision to a regulatory agency - or even notify the public.

"The ash contains an alphabet soup of toxic chemicals, from arsenic to chromium to lead - the list is long," she said, "and those chemicals, when ash is disposed of unsafely, leave the ash and enter our ground water and our surface water."

Minnesota has 34 coal-ash ponds at 10 of its 17 coal-burning plants.

EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist, is charged with fulfilling President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign promise to roll back regulation on the coal industry. The EPA has said the change would help spur what it calls the "beneficial use" of coal ash.

Evans argued that by lifting the regulations, the Trump administration is bowing to the coal industry without regard to public health.

"The coal industry is afraid that the Trump administration may not get a second term," she said, "so they want to make sure that all these rollbacks, all these weakening of the regulations pertaining to coal plants, happen before Trump leaves office."

Nine of Minnesota's coal-ash ponds are rated a "significant hazard," according to Earthjustice. Seventeen ponds are more than 30 years old and five are at least 40 years old, meaning they are unlikely to have such safeguards as liners or collection systems.

The EPA proposal is online at epa.gov, and more information is at earthjustice.org.


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