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SOURCE: The Hill

DATE: July 18, 2018

SNIP: The Trump administration started easing some standards for how companies discard coal ash, the toxic substances left over from burning coal.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made final Wednesday what it said are the first of a potential series of changes to the Obama administration’s landmark 2015 rule that dictated the first ever federal standards for coal ash disposal.

It is the first major regulatory move by acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who took over earlier this month when former chief Scott Pruitt resigned under the cloud of numerous scandals.

Wheeler was previously a lobbyist whose clients included coal mining company Murray Energy Corp. Murray opposed the 2015 rule, though Wheeler has said that he didn’t lobby the EPA for two years before his April confirmation as deputy administrator.

Under the amendments made Wednesday, states or the EPA will be allowed to waive requirements for monitoring groundwater for potential leaching of coal ash under certain circumstances and to issue some certifications that previously had to come from professional engineers.

The EPA is also easing acceptable pollution standards for four substances in its groundwater monitoring requirements for coal ash: cobalt, lithium, molybdenum and lead.

In addition, the EPA is extending deadlines by which companies have to stop putting additional ash in waste facilities if groundwater pollution spikes or if the waste facilities are too close to aquifers.

The 2015 rule was put in place to protect soil and water from coal ash, which contains concentrated levels of arsenic, lead, chromium and other harmful substances. It followed a number of high-profile disastrous coal ash spills, like in Kingston, Tenn., in 2008 and in Eden, N.C., in 2014.