NYT: EPA to undo Obama-era regulations on coal toxins

The Trump administration is poised to undo an Obama-era regulation intended to limit emissions of toxins from coal-fired power plants, a move that environmental groups say could lead to significant health problems, The New York Times reported Thursday.

The Times, citing conversations with two people familiar with the plans, said the Environmental Protection Agency could move as early as Thursday to “weaken” the regulation by “relaxing some of the requirements on power generators and also exempting a significant number of power plants from even those requirements.” The newspaper said the agency was pursuing the changes in order to extend the life of older power plants run by coal that have been closing down as cleaner alternatives become more preferred.

Under President Donald Trump, the EPA has rolled back a number of Obama-era regulations that sought to reduce the environmental and health impacts of non-renewable energy, and Thursday’s move would be the latest example of that pattern of deregulation.

The Times said each year power plants produce about 130 million tons of coal ash — the residue produced from burning coal that is stored in more than a thousand sites across the country. The Obama-era regulation “set deadlines for power plants to invest in modern wastewater treatment technology to keep toxic pollution out of local waterways,” which was estimated to stop about 1.4 million pounds of “toxic metals and other pollutants” from going into waterways, the newspaper said.

Environmental groups opposed to the changes are warning that they could lead to significant health issues contracted from drinking water, such as “birth defects, cancer and stunted brain development in young children,” according to the Times, which said some groups plan to challenge the rollback.

According to the newspaper, the Trump administration plans to say their proposed changes “will remove more pollutants than the Obama-era regulation,” an argument the Times said was based on “an analysis that assumes about 30 percent of power plants will voluntarily chose to install more stringent technology.”