Coal-Pollution Rules From Obama Era Put on Chopping Block

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler walks from Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., following a trip to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Announcing the latest in a series of regulatory breaks for the coal industry, the Trump administration called Monday to roll back a set of 2015 Obama-era guidelines crafted to reduce the concentration of toxic coal-ash runoff into waterways.

The policy-change proposal comes a few days after U.S. coal mining giant Murray Energy filed for Chapter 11 protection; the company’s former CEO Bob Murray was a vocal Trump supporter.

Murray Energy’s filing came as a partial result of the fact that coal companies are facing stiff competition from natural-gas and renewable-energy companies that are offering cheaper forms of energy. At least seven other coal companies have filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019, according to The New York Times.

The proposed change to Obama’s rule regulating flue-gas desulfurization and bottom-ash transport was signed Monday by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The agency is submitting it for publication in the Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government of the United States.

The EPA says the change will save coal companies more than $175 million in pre-tax compliance costs per year and reduce the amount of pollutants discharged into U.S. waters by approximately 100 million pounds per year — both, a result of less costly technologies that “could be used to comply with the proposed relaxation.”

For U.S. environmental groups, however, the revision will come at a deficit to public health.

The Sierra Club said Monday the proposal will allow coal companies to dump toxic industrial sludge into drinking water.

“The Trump EPA has proven once again that they will put the drinking water of millions of Americans at risk by allowing dirty coal plants to dump their industrial waste into our rivers, streams, and waterways — all just to save wealthy coal executives a few dollars,” Tom Schuster, Sierra Club’s senior campaign representative for Pennsylvania, said in a statement Monday. “This rollback is a travesty and a threat to the health of our communities. There is no reason why any parent should have to think twice about giving their child safe water from a faucet.”

Similarly, Thom Cmar, an attorney with the nonprofit environmental group Earthjustice, said this proposal makes clear that industry profits are more important to the administration than people’s health or clean water.

“These rules are supposed to safeguard our water from toxic pollution, but the laundry list of loopholes proposed by the Trump EPA threatens to completely undo the protections,” he said in a statement Monday. “It is outrageous that Trump’s team is so beholden to polluters that they are willing to let power plants continue to dump lead, mercury, chromium and other dangerous chemicals into our water supply to preserve every last cent of their profits.

The EPA plans to hold a public hearing about the proposed rule Dec. 19 at 1 p.m. An EPA official did not respond to an email seeking comment on the proposal Monday.

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