The EPA Is Changing How Coal Ash Disposal Is Regulated

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator

The Environmental Protection Agency has amended regulations pertaining to the disposal of coal ash, giving state governments and utilities more flexibility and saving tens of millions in annual costs.

Coal ash, also known as coal combustion residuals, is the residue that’s left over when power plants burn coal to generate electricity. These chemicals — which are toxic for the environment — are heavily regulated by the government. Coal ash has historically been regulated solely by the federal government in order to ensure its safe handling.

The Obama administration established new regulations for coal ash in 2015, much to the dismay of energy regulators who claimed they were too burdensome and expensive. Industry groups have since heavily lobbied the Trump administration to amend the 2015 rules.

Numerous changes to these former President Barack Obama-era regulations were proposed by the EPA by March and several were incorporated into final regulation Wednesday.

The EPA will now grant state directors the authority “to suspend groundwater monitoring requirements if there is evidence that there is no potential for migration of hazardous constituents to the uppermost aquifer during the active life of the unit and post closure care,” according to the agency’s news release. However, state directors are only given this privilege if they are in a state with an approved coal ash permit program. Other amendments have also been pushed through, giving state regulators the ability to tailor requirements depending on the site. (RELATED: Trump’s EPA Lets Oklahoma Become First State To Regulate Coal Ash Disposal)

The EPA argues these changes will streamline the regulation process and eliminate government red-tape, adding that $28 to $31 million a year will be saved in regulatory costs.

“These amendments provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash, while ensuring human health and the environment are protected,” Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a released statement. “Our actions mark a significant departure from the one-size-fits-all policies of the past and save tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs.”

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has made major changes to coal ash regulation in recent months. The EPA granted Oklahoma the ability to manage its own coal combustion residual program in June — the first state in the U.S. given the authority to do so.

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