Environment

The federal Environmental Protection Agency says it will reconsider the nation’s first-ever coal ash regulations. Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal in power plants. It contains toxins, which if not managed properly, can contaminate water, soil and air.

Last spring, the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group (USWAG) — an industry group — filed a petition requesting the EPA reconsider the rule. The coal ash regulations went into effect in October 2015 under President Barack Obama’s administration. Now, President Donald Trump’s EPA says there may be a good case for revising the rule.

“After reviewing your petitions, I have decided that it is appropriate and in the public interest to reconsider the provisions of the final rule addressed in your petitions, in light of the issues raised in your petitions, as well as the new authorities provided in the recently enacted Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act,” wrote EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a letter dated Wednesday.

He added the letter is not weighing in on the merits of USWAG’s issues, but noted if the EPA decides to revise the final rule it would involve notice and public comment.

Coal ash is a significant issue in Kentucky, though the state hasn’t seen the kind of large-scale ash spills that have happened in Tennessee and North Carolina. The waste is stored in ponds and dry landfills across the state; earlier this year, regulators cited a utility for allowing coal ash to contaminate a popular recreation lake and poisoning the fish.

In a news release, a coalition of environmental groups lampooned Pruitt’s letter. They noted the presence of toxins like arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium in coal ash, which raise the risk for cancer, heart disease and stroke.

“This decision is a galling giveaway to industrial polluters, even by this Administration’s standards of pandering to industry at the expense of the public,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. “The EPA is sending a crystal-clear message to families across the country: our job is to protect wealthy polluters, not you and your children. These toxic dumps should have been cleaned up decades ago.”

Kentucky has passed its own controversial regulations in response to the federal rule.

For more of WFPL’s coal ash coverage, click here.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.