Nov. 4 (UPI) -- The Trump administration said Monday it will roll back environmental regulations that control how coal plants dispose of ash and release toxic water into streams and waterways.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it's seeking to weaken a 2015 Obama-era rule that required power plants to invest in wastewater treatment technology to prevent poisonous coal ash from seeping into rivers, streams and, eventually, drinking water supplies. Coal ash, the residue left after coal burns, contains mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals that pose a risk to human health and the environment.
The coal ash is stored in unlined waste ponds with nothing to stop it from seeping into the soil and underground aquifers. Coal plants were originally supposed to comply with the ordinance by 2018 but the EPA first delayed its implementation in 2017 under the Trump administration. With the EPA's latest decision, power plants can petition for up to eight more years before they have to comply.
"The 2015 rule being replaced today documented that coal fired power plants discharge over 1 billion pounds of pollutants every year into 4,000 miles of rivers, contaminating the drinking water and fisheries of 2.7 million people," former director of the EPA's Office of Science and Technology Betsy Southerland said. "EPA hides the detrimental impacts of these relaxed requirements and exemptions by stating they will achieve lower pollutant loadings because about 30 percent of the plants will voluntarily install treatment that is more stringent than the rule requirements."
Several power companies have filed lawsuits saying they couldn't afford to meet the stringent requirements under the 2015 rule. President Donald Trump has been a strong supporter of U.S. coal and campaigned in 2016 on promises to save jobs in the industry.
Murray Energy Corp., the nation's fifth-largest coal producer, declared bankruptcy last week. Trump attempted last year to subsidize failing coal plants, including power plants supplied by Murray Energy, but energy regulators rejected the effort.