EPA Finalizes Wastewater Rule Rollback, Making it Easier for Coal Plants to Pollute

Yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the rollback an Obama-era rule that would have, as the Washington Post reported, forced coal plants to treat wastewater with more modern, effective methods in order to curb toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury from contaminating lakes, rivers, and streams near their facilities.

The rollback is in line with the deregulatory agenda the Trump administration has promised as the new rule is expected to save utilities approximately $140 million annually by letting them use less effective wastewater treatment technologies while pushing back compliance dates.

As Reuters explained, a senior EPA official said the final rule would reduce pollution by nearly a million pounds per year over the 2015 rule, though environmental groups said the rollback lets industry use cheaper, less effective treatment methods on polluted wastewater that puts waterways at risk.

Why This Matters: We wrote about this proposed rollback last November. And as E&E News wrote yesterday, the final rule is similar to one proposed last fall but would further extend the timeline for plants to comply. There’s simply no such thing as a safe coal plant, these facilities pollute waterways and local drinking water often affecting communities of color most profoundly.

Go Deeper: To learn more about the specifics of what this new final rule entails, we recommend E&E’s most recent reporting.

A Big, Fat, Handout: President Trump made a pledge to save dying coal plants by reducing their costs to comply with environmental regulations. But despite all the help, coal-fired power plants simply cannot compete with cleaner energy sources, his pledge is failing.

EPA Administrator, and former coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, described this rollback as “more affordable pollution control technologies” which would “reduce pollution and save jobs at the same time.” But there’s simply no saving the coal industry.

The Case Against Bailouts: While the Trump Administration has made evident that it has no interest in advancing action on climate change, it’s still worth noting that if the world is to reduce emissions by the amount necessary to slow global warming, coal cannot be a part of that future. As Greenpeace explained,

  • Coal is the single largest contributor to global warming.
  • Currently, one-third of all global carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal. Additionally, scientists are increasingly clear that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to leave 80 percent of global carbon deposits — like coal — in the ground.

As coal companies continue to file for bankruptcy, they’re wiping out the pensions and health benefits of miners. Instead of helping line the pockets of coal companies and major utilities, the federal government needs to have a serious look at what a just transition for coal miners and the communities most affected by coal pollution looks like.

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