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.
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