SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: October 31, 2019

SNIP: The Trump administration is expected to roll back an Obama-era regulation meant to limit the leaching of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury into water supplies from the ash of coal-fired power plants, according to two people familiar with the plans.

With a series of new rules expected in the coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency will move to weaken the 2015 regulation that would have strengthened inspection and monitoring at coal plants, lowered acceptable levels of toxic effluent and required plants to install new technology to protect water supplies from contaminated coal ash.

The E.P.A. will relax some of those requirements and exempt a significant number of power plants from any of the requirements, according to the two people familiar with the Trump administration plan, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the new rules.

The move is part of a series of deregulatory efforts by the Trump administration aimed at extending the lives of old, coal-fired power plants that have been shutting down in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy generators. Coal ash, the residue produced from burning coal, was dumped for years in holding areas near power plants, largely without regulation, but it came to the public’s attention after spills in North Carolina and Tennessee sent mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals from the ash into water supplies.

Environmental groups warned that the regulatory rollback could lead to contaminated drinking water and birth defects, cancer and stunted brain development in young children. Energy analysts said the administration’s latest gambit to bolster the industry would not save the industry from its long decline.

The Obama-era rule came partially in response to a 2008 disaster in Tennessee when a containment pond ruptured at the Kingston Fossil Plant. More than 1.1 billion gallons of coal-ash slurry spilled into nearby rivers and destroyed homes.

In 2014, a broken pipe spilled millions of gallons of liquefied coal ash from a retired power plant into the Dan River in North Carolina. It turned the water into dark sludge and threatened drinking water supplies.