EPA reconsiders Obama-era rules on coal waste after utility companies warn of plant closures

By Chris White

Federal regulators announced a decision Thursday to review the Obama administration’s rules governing coal ash waste after public utility companies warned the rules would shutter waste sites.

The Environmental Protection Agency intends on targeting rules analysts estimate would cost power companies nearly $35 billion over two decades. It is not clear in what direction the agency will lean in its review.

Coal ash is byproduct from coal-fired power plants and contains arsenic, selenium, lead and mercury. The EPA has spent years hashing out strong controls on coal waste, which can be used to make cement, particle board and other products.

“It is important that we give the existing rule a hard look and consider improvements,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in the statement. He has stated elsewhere that the agency wants to give states more flexibility about what to do with waste given off from coal power production.

The EPA’s move to review the rule is one of several Obama-era rules the Trump administration is considering repealing.

President Donald Trump committed to withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, while the EPA continues unwinding former President Barack Obama’s attempts to expand regulatory authority over larger sections of the economy.

Environmentalist groups believe the review is a precursor for Trump’s move to repeal the coal waste law.

“This is a real blow for the folks who sought the most modest of safeguards,” Dalal Aboulhosn, deputy legislative director at the Sierra Club, told reporters after the announcement. The review is likely the first phase of Trump’s move to nix another one of his predecessor’s climate regulations, she added.

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