Coal Ash Wednesday: Trump's EPA bows to industry pressure


Nixing rule requiring power plants to show financial capability to clean up spills:

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it won't require electric utilities to show they have money to clean up hazardous spills from power plants despite a history of toxic coal ash releases contaminating rivers and aquifers. Environmental Protection Agency officials said Tuesday that modern industry practices and recently enacted regulations are sufficient to shield taxpayers from potential cleanup costs.

The finding comes after the EPA last year reversed a related proposal under President Barack Obama that would have imposed new financial requirements on the hardrock mining industry.

On paper anyway, the difference between "taxpayers" and "ratepayers" is substantial. But in reality, there really isn't much difference. All taxpayers also pay power bills, and when the NCUC bows to Duke Energy demands to raise their rates to pay for spills and safe disposal of coal ash, taxpayers are footing the bill. And this is not an academic exercise:

In 2014, an estimated 39,000 tons (35,380 metric tons) of coal ash spewed into the Dan River after a drainage pipe running below a waste dump collapsed at a Duke Energy plant in Eden, North Carolina. The toxic sludge turned the river gray for more than 70 miles (112 kilometers).

Those accidents helped spur new EPA regulations in 2015 that were intended to increase oversight of the industry.

Under Trump, the EPA is in the process of revising the 2015 coal ash rules. Attorney Lisa Evans with the environmental group Earthjustice said that could undermine efforts to protect against pollution.

"EPA tried hard to justify this reckless outcome, but its reasoning will make sense only to the coal industry," Evans said.

When Duke Energy promised to cover the costs of the Dan River cleanup out of its own pockets, that wasn't out of generosity or responsibility. It was to head off any new legislation coming out of Raleigh to demand such a thing for all future spills.

And it worked.