WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is rolling back Obama-era environmental rules regulating the fossil fuel industry, shifting to states power to regulate disposal of toxic coal ash.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed the changes Thursday, saying they would provide savings of up to $100 million per year for electric utilities.
“Today’s coal ash proposal embodies EPA’s commitment to our state partners by providing them with the ability to incorporate flexibilities into their coal ash permit programs based on the needs of their states,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a statement. “We are also providing clarification and an opportunity for public comment – something that is much-needed following the public reaction to the 2015 coal ash rule.”
The proposal includes more than a dozen changes to the 2015 rule that set minimum national standards regulating the location, design and operation of existing and new coal ash landfills and surface impoundments at more than 400 coal-fired power plants nationwide. That rule, which was put in place after Duke Energy spilled up to 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden in 2014 and another spill in Tennessee in 2008, remains subject to litigation pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The proposal would allow alternative performance standards for coal ash disposal units with operating permits issued under an approved state or federal coal ash permit program. The proposal also requests comment on whether a regulated facility could develop and implement similar alternative standards that would be subject to oversight and enforcement by EPA.
The proposal includes changes to allow a state regulatory program to establish alternative risk-based groundwater protection standards where there’s not an established maximum contaminant level, rather than the use of background levels that are currently required. It seeks to change location restrictions and associated deadlines concerning construction or operation of a coal ash landfill or surface impoundment in certain areas.
It would allow states to establish alternative requirements for how facilities respond to and remediate releases from coal ash landfills and surface impoundments and allow states to determine whether to take corrective action when an unlined surface impoundment is leaking, rather than being forced to stop receiving coal ash and close. It would also change provisions to allow the use of coal ash during the closure process and to allow non-coal ash waste to continue to be placed in a surface impoundment that is subject to closure.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced in February draft rules regulating coal ash disposal and recycling.
EPA will be accepting public comment on the proposed changes for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register and plans to hold a public hearing to receive additional feedback on the proposal during the public comment period.
EPA also plans to propose additional changes to the coal ash rule later this year.