Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Southern states differ in response to coal-ash rule rollbacks

"As the Trump administration scales back federal regulation of the waste from coal-fired power plants known as coal ash, a handful of Southern states have passed laws forcing utilities to clean up or contain the toxic mess," Max Blau reports for Stateline. "Other states, though, have done little or nothing."

Coal-fired plants produce 130 million tons of toxic coal ash, one of the largest sources of industrial waste in the nation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The ash is commonly put in nearby ponds or pits that frequently leach toxic chemicals into drinking water and/or bodies of water. The South is home to nearly half of America's largest coal ash disposal sites, Blau reports.

The Obama administration created the nation's first comprehensive regulations for disposing of coal ash, but the Trump administration delayed the new rules from fully going into effect. Now, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, has proposed weakening rules on coal ash disposal and monitoring, Blau reports.

That means states will probably be largely responsible for coal-ash regulations, which the Trump administration has encouraged. "Lawmakers in Virginia and North Carolina have taken steps to require utilities to excavate coal ash from unlined ponds to prevent the heavy metals from seeping into groundwater," Blue reports. Also, "This past June, Tennessee officials settled with the Tennessee Valley Authority to excavate millions of tons of coal ash from ponds that the state said polluted the Cumberland River."

Some states, like Georgia and Alabama, have taken steps to adopt their own rules, but environmental advocates say the proposed rules won't do much to help. And some states, like Kentucky, are limited in their ability to regulate the industry because coal companies have persuaded legislators to pass laws restricting states from creating tougher regulations than the federal government. 

State officials in Georgia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky—as well as coal-industry groups—have praised the rollbacks, saying they felt the Obama-era laws were an overreach, and that it's wrong to impose a law on all states when some may have different needs, Blau reports.

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