EPA Considers Repealing Another Obama-Era Coal Regulation

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt told business advocates the agency will reconsider a rule utilities worry could force more coal-fired power plants to close.

“I have decided that it is appropriate and in the public interest to reconsider the rule,” Pruitt wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to counsel for a utility group and officials at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

“The EPA is acting promptly to issue an administrative stay of the compliance dates in the rule that have not yet passed pending judicial review,” Pruitt wrote regarding an EPA regulation on liquid waste from coal plants.

Pruitt was responding to a petition sent by the Utility Water Action Group (UWAG), urging the Trump administration to rescind its “Effluent Limitations Guidelines” for coal-fired power plants.

UWAG argues the regulation will “cause negative impacts on jobs due to the excessive costs of compliance – which were grossly underestimated by EPA – and regulatory burdens forcing plant closures.”

UWAG said EPA underestimated the rule’s costs and withheld records about the rulemaking from utilities who would have to comply with the rule, which the agency estimates could cost up to $2.5 billion a year.

“To an unprecedented extent, the Agency withheld fundamental information purporting to justify the Rule, UWAG argued, adding that included “pages of the record that demonstrably were not entitled to confidential treatment.”

The EPA said in legal filings it withheld records to protect confidential business information.

Pruitt said EPA would reconsider the ELG rule based on UWAG’s concerns. It’s the latest move by the Trump administration to ease the regulatory burden on the coal industry.

President Donald Trump promised to lessen regulations on coal mines to put miners back to work. Trump has already signed executive orders to rescind EPA and Interior Department regulations on coal production and power generation.

Most recently, Trump ordered the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants. That rule was also expected to force more coal plants to prematurely shut down.

Environmentalists were, obviously, outraged by Pruitt’s decision.

“Trump’s attempt to halt these clean water protections for mercury, lead, and arsenic from coal power plants is dangerous and irresponsible,” said Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign.

The Obama administration finalized the ELG rule in 2015 and it went into effect in January 2016. The rule requires coal plants to install new equipment to curb pollution from wastewater streams.

Utilities, including UWAG, took EPA to court to have the rule overturned. UWAG and others argued the rule violated the Clean Water Act and Administrative Procedures Act.

Aside from arguing EPA improperly withheld data on how they came up with the rule, plaintiffs argued the agency didn’t perform proper testing to see if requiring coal plants to install new equipment would meet federal pollution guidelines.

Environmentalists fought to keep the rule in place, and Pruitt can expect legal challenges if EPA tries to repeal the ELG rule.

“Trump claimed he wanted EPA to go ‘back to basics’ and focus on clean air and water in his Administration, but one of the first actions by his EPA Administrator is an attempt to gut an important water pollution safeguard,” Hitt said.

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