- The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed a new rule that would give states and utilities more flexibility in the disposal of coal ash.
- EPA's proposal would make a dozen changes to Obama-era coal ash regulations challenged in court, including allowing states to design their own standards for ash disposal. EPA previewed many of the changes in a November court filing.
- EPA says the relaxed standards would save the power industry $100 million a year through reduced compliance costs, but environmental groups said it would allow states to undermine key provisions in the Obama-era rule that intended to prevent contamination from toxic chemicals in coal ash.
The Obama administration's coal ash rule was proposed in 2015 after a series of high-profile ash spills clogged rivers and cut off drinking water service in states like West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
The rules would have set the nation's first minimum standards for coal ash disposal, but were never implemented due to court challenges.
The rule was designed to be self-implementing, but in December of 2016, Congress updated the rule's underlying statute to give EPA the ability to enforce standards and allow states to propose alternative technical standards for ash disposal.
Power sector interests balked at the enhanced oversight. In May 2017, the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group (USWAG) told EPA that approaching regulatory deadlines were forcing companies to make "irreversible and tremendously significant long-term business and operational decisions," including pulling coal plants offline.