Utilities group petitions EPA head to upend coal ash rule

By Michael Biesecker, Associated Press

A utilities group asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday to sweep away rules governing the disposal of the poison-laden ash left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity.

In this Jan. 14, 2016, file photo, coal ash is removed from the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., to be transported by rail to a permanent site in Virginia. A utilities group is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to sweep away rules governing the disposal of the poison-laden ash left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A utilities group asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday to sweep away rules governing the disposal of the poison-laden ash left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity.

The Utility Solid Waste Activities Group filed a petition asking EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to reconsider broad sections of the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, saying the regulations are ill-conceived and burdensome.

The EPA chief has expressed his willingness to gut environmental regulations finalized under the Obama administration, especially if doing so aids the fossil fuel industry. Since his appointment, Pruitt has repeatedly moved to block or delay rules aimed at curbing air and water pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Like President Donald Trump, Pruitt denies the consensus of climate scientists that manmade carbon emissions are the primary driver of climate change.

The nation's coal-fired power plants produce tens of millions of tons of coal ash each year that contain such toxic heavy metals as arsenic, lead and mercury. Much of the ash is in wastewater pumped into massive unlined pits near lakes and rivers potentially used as sources of drinking water.

Following a series of highly-publicized spills, the EPA spent years developing new rules to prod utilities to either recycle the ash or dispose of it more safely.

Environmentalists quickly criticized the petition, while grudgingly admitting the utilities stand a good chance of getting what they want from the Trump administration.

"These dumps should have been cleaned up decades ago," said Lisa Evans, a lawyer with the environmental advocacy group Earthjustice. "The new EPA safeguards were finally starting to make progress. ... Cutting back protections at this point would be reckless and would put people's health at risk."

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