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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

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.

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