Coal Ash Wednesday: Virginia defies Scott Pruitt's rollback of CCR rules

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Providing Roy Cooper a blueprint to do the same:

Virginia's governor says the state has no plans to change its coal ash management practices, despite an Environmental Protection Agency plan to roll back regulations governing the byproduct generated by coal-burning power plants. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement Tuesday that the Department of Environmental Quality will maintain its program for regulating coal ash.

The announcement from Northam comes after the EPA announced in March that it was rewriting the rules. It said at the time that the change would save utilities $100 million annually in compliance costs and give states more flexibility in enforcement. Critics said the changes would weaken protections for human health and the environment. The state also filed written comments with EPA, urging the agency not to weaken the rule.

Just a little background: It took several years from the point the EPA announced it was (finally) going to develop rules for storage and disposal of coal ash, and the actual rules being enacted. Reams of research, thousands of hours of testimony and feedback from the public and utilities went into this before it was promulgated. And the end result was (of course) weaker than many of us had hoped. But not weak enough for Scott Pruitt, apparently. He would have done this regardless, but this petition by a couple of utility groups set the formal process in motion:

EPA’s CCR Rule, found at 40C.F.R.Part 257,regulating the disposal of CCR by the electric utility sector will result in significant economic and operational impacts to coal-fired power generation. Rapidly approaching compliance deadlines for the most impactful components of the Rule are forcing owners or operators of power plants to make irreversible and tremendously significant long-term business and operational decisions regarding how to comply with the Rule. In many cases, these compliance decisions include the closure of CCR disposal units,and even the premature closure of power plants. Put simply,if there is no cost-effective option to manage CCR—the byproduct from the combustion of coal—the use of coal to produce power is significantly burdened, and the economic viability of coal-fired power plants is jeopardized. The CCR
Rule is having precisely this adverse effect on coal-fired power generation across the country.

There you have it. It's costing them money to handle their toxic waste properly, putting their profit margins at risk, with an added little threat about the entire industry being forced to shut down. Which is more than enough for Scott Pruitt, regardless of how accurate any of that sniveling actually is.

And to make this petition even more absurd, one of the signatories controls the only coal-fired power plant in Puerto Rico, and it's actually killing people:

For more than a decade, the number of Guayama cancer cases hovered at about 100 per year. But within a year of the plant’s 2002 opening, the number of cases rose by nearly 50%. The most recent figures show that new cancer cases have stayed near that level, spiking even higher in 2013.

From the start, the company was producing Agremax from coal ash. Coal ash has trace amounts of heavy metals including arsenic, chromium, and mercury–substances that can become hazardous if there is enough present. According to AES, the plant produces 220-thousand tons of coal ash a year.

But in the company’s original contract with Puerto Rico’s electric authority, the ash could not be stored on the island, unless it had a beneficial commercial use–which it did. The plant mixed coal ash with water to create Agremax, that concrete-like material that sits outside the plant. AES marketed Agremax for use in Puerto Rican roads and construction, among other things. According to the EPA, over two million tons of the material was used in thirty-three sites on the island between 2004 and 2012.

Dr. Gerson Jimenez Castañón is the medical director for Menonita medical center, the only hospital in Puerto Rico’s southeast region. He says he began to see a higher influx of patients two to three years after the coal-burning plant was built.

And of course the question on your lips right now is some variation of, "What about the hurricane?" The answer is, not good:

New findings have added fuel to the debate over coal ash. Last month AES released its most recent groundwater monitoring report. It showed that between September 12th and October 4th of last year, levels of arsenic, chromium, and even two radioactive isotopes had increased dramatically in groundwater near the coal plant’s large mound of Agremax.

That increase took place around the time Hurricane Maria hit the island. The Environmental Quality Board had ordered AES to cover the Agremax pile before the storm, but the company did not comply. The board later fined AES. The company is contesting the fine.

Get that? A utility that refused an order to take safety precautions prior to a monster hurricane is telling the EPA they can handle their operations just fine, and don't need the "burden" of Federal regulation. This absurdity is brought to you by the Trump Kakistocracy.

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