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EPA To Weaken Rules Governing Coal Ash

The Colstrip coal-fired power plant in Montana has a complex of coal-ash ponds that covers more than 800 acres.
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
The Colstrip coal-fired power plant in Montana has a complex of coal-ash ponds that covers more than 800 acres.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to roll back Obama-era rules governing how coal-fired power plants store and release toxic waste.

In 2015, the Obama administration strengthened the inspection and monitoring of coal ash-the powdery substance that remains after burning coal-as well as the release of toxic waste into nearby waterways. The proposed changes, announced Monday, would relax those requirements.

"It's only sort of recently that we've started to understand all the pollution and toxic aspects of coal ash," said Michelle Irwin with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a land advocacy group. She added that the rollbacks "undermine the seriousness of the issue."

Coal ash contains contaminants such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic, according to the EPA.

The EPA's Peter Wright said most of the 2015 rules will remain in place including how coal ash is stored and monitored.

"Facilities that are having an impact on groundwater are somewhere in the process of having to address that groundwater," Wright said. "There's no change in any of those deadlines."

But the proposal would give coal plant operators more time to close unlined coal ash waste ponds, while loosening requirements for how plants discharge wastewater.

A 60-day public comment period will open in the coming weeks.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit .

Maggie Mullen is a fifth generation Wyomingite, born and raised in Casper. She is currently a Masters candidate in American Studies and will defend her thesis on female body hair in contemporary American culture this May. Before graduate school, she earned her BA in English and French from the University of Wyoming. Maggie enjoys writing, cooking, her bicycle, swimming in rivers and lakes, and most any dog.
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