Energy

Trump’s EPA Lets Oklahoma Become First State To Regulate Coal Ash Disposal

REUTERS/Leah Millis

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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The Environmental Protection Agency is allowing Oklahoma to operate a program for coal ash disposal, marking the first time the federal government has granted a state oversight authority in managing toxic ash disposal from coal plants.

The EPA approved Oklahoma’s application to manage a permit program for the disposal of coal combustion residuals on Monday, more commonly referred to as coal ash. The unprecedented move makes Oklahoma the first state in the U.S. to be given the authority to oversee the disposal of coal ash, a responsibility historically given to the federal government. 

“This historic announcement places oversight of coal ash disposal into the hands of those who are best positioned to oversee coal ash management: the officials who have intimate knowledge of the facilities and the environment in their state,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement Monday. “Oklahoma is leading the way for other states to establish state coal ash permit programs, and EPA stands ready to work with each and every state to improve coal ash management.”

Before becoming the chief of the EPA, Pruitt, a Republican, served as attorney general of Oklahoma.

The move, however, hasn’t come without controversy. Coal ash is the residue that’s left over when plants burn coal to generate electricity. The proper disposal of this residue is tightly managed so as to not allow toxic chemicals be released into the outside environment. Climate change advocates and other environmentalist groups have long called for oversight of this process to remain in the federal government’s hands. (RELATED: Study: Arizona ‘Clean Energy’ Initiative Won’t Even Help The Environment) 

The “industry has asked for leniency, less stringency. That’s the direction they’re going,” said Lisa Evans, an attorney for environmental nonprofit Earthjustice, adding that the states involved have demonstrated “they don’t care about the health and safety of communities near coal ash dumps,” according to the Associated Press.

Many in the industry, however, have celebrated the EPA’s decision, arguing that oversight is best left to the individuals who are in the best position to manage the process.

“The EPA approval of each state’s ability to develop an EPA approved plan to deal with environmental issues makes much more sense than the ‘one plan fits all’ approach of the past. The State of Oklahoma and individual utilities have worked closely in the past to solve difficult environmental issues that benefited all citizens of the state and with this progressive step, that work can continue,” Western Farmers Electric Cooperative CEO Gary Roulet said in a Monday statement.

Other states might be soon following Oklahoma’s example. Georgia has submitted an application of its own to operate a state-run program, and Texas officials are also moving in the same direction.

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