Nov 3, 2019

EPA to relax federal regulations on coal-fired power plant waste

A coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to ease regulations on coal-fired power plant waste on Monday, according to the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Coal-fired power plants produce coal ash and water that contain mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals that pose risks to human health and the environment if stored improperly. Some power plants store coal ash in unlined waste ponds, which threatens groundwater and waterways.

Details: Under an Obama-era rule, coal-fired power plants were required to line coal ash ponds that were leaking contaminants into groundwater with clay and compacted soil by April 2019 or the ponds would be forced to close.

  • Under the new regulations, companies will have to stop dumping coal ash in unlined storage ponds near waterways by Aug. 31, 2020, and either upgrade these sites or begin to close them. But companies can request an extension ranging from 90 days to three years if they need more time to dispose of the waste.
  • Additionally, if a plant can prove it is shutting down a coal boiler, it can request to keep its unlined storage ponds open for up to eight years.

By the numbers: Coal waste is stored in roughly 450 sites across the country, according to the Post. Some states have suffered from coal ash spills that have contaminated waterways and exposed people to toxic metals.

  • In Tennessee in December 2008, a dike used by a coal plant to contain coal ash broke, causing more than 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge to pour into the Emory River, according to National Geographic.
  • Some of the workers who cleaned up the spill now live with types of cancers and other diseases linked to heavy metal exposure.

What they're saying: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement that the Obama-era rules "placed heavy burdens on electricity producers across the country. These proposed revisions support the Trump administration’s commitment to responsible, reasonable regulations."

Go deeper: Toxic ash at risk of spreading as Trump's EPA seeks to dismantle protections

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Coal is projected to see a record decline in 2019

Reproduced from Carbon Brief; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global coal-fired electricity production is projected to drop 3% this year, the largest decline on record, concludes an analysis from three think tanks published by the website Carbon Brief.

Why it matters: Reining in carbon emissions from coal-fired generation is a pillar of every major pathway for limiting temperature rise.

Go deeperArrowNov 25, 2019

New studies paint sobering climate picture

Photo: Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Image

Two new analyses signal how the world is far, far, far off-track from even preparing for steep emissions cuts, let alone making them happen.

Driving the news, part 1: A report Wednesday from the UN Environment Programme and several partners explores the "production gap."

Go deeperArrowNov 20, 2019

Climate change activists aren't loving Mike Bloomberg's 2020 flirtations

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Lots of environmentalists like Mike Bloomberg, but there's not likely to be a groundswell of activist support for his potential White House run.

Why it matters: Climate change has long been a major priority for Bloomberg, who for years has poured resources into speeding the closure of coal-fired power plants.

Go deeperArrowNov 12, 2019