(CN) — Sparking criticism from environmentalists, the outgoing Trump administration said Wednesday it will not force power plants, chemical manufacturers and oil and gas producers to have insurance covering toxic waste cleanups.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced it finalized a rule pertaining to requirements for financial assurance, or insurance that would guarantee funding for cleaning up major spills and chemical releases.
The agency decided not to make that type of insurance mandatory for multiple industries that include gas, coal, oil and chemical manufacturing. The decision is not a rollback of any current rules but instead means no new requirements will be imposed.
“EPA has found that existing environmental regulations and modern industry practices are sufficient to mitigate any risks inherent in these industries,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
The decision goes against findings from by the Obama administration, which had pushed for the insurance requirements in order to avoid having to use money allocated for existing Superfund sites in the event of a major spill. There are currently more than 1,300 Superfund sites nationwide.
The EPA said that, following a detailed analysis, it found that the financial risks from coal power plants, the chemical manufacturing industry and the oil and gas industry are “addressed by existing state and federal requirements to cover the costs of cleaning up possible hazardous substance releases.”
“In addition to research and analysis, EPA reviewed and considered public comments to conclude that the level of risk is addressed by existing requirements and does not warrant new requirements for these industries,” the agency said. “This is consistent with EPA’s interpretation of the [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act], which was unanimously upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in litigation challenging the agency’s hardrock mining final action not requiring additional financial assurance.”
But environmental advocates and other critics of the Trump administration’s decision argue the companies responsible for pollution will not be held accountable under the rule, which is set to take effect in about a month.
“The decision is a disaster for taxpayers, the environment and public health,” said Lisa Evans, senior counsel at Earthjustice, in a statement.
She said that polluters often declare bankruptcy, which leaves the cleanup costs to taxpayers.
“This is corporate welfare that leaves American taxpayers at risk for having to foot the bill when polluters create a toxic mess,” Evans added, calling the move a “parting gift from Donald Trump to industry lobbyists on his way out the door.”
Evans also said the facilities at issue are mostly located in communities of color or low-income areas, leading to an environmental justice issue when chemical releases and spills occur. She said Earthjustice will work toward reversing the rule next year.