Trump Administration Further Weakens Coal Ash Protections

Trump administration’s new Part B rule circumvents court order to close all toxic coal ash ponds without a liner made of plastic and clay


Lisa Evans, Earthjustice, (978) 548-8645

The Trump administration has finalized another rule that further weakens critical protections from toxic coal ash pollution. The latest coal ash regulatory weakening, known as “Part B,” violates the 2018 order by the D.C. Court of Appeals to close coal ash ponds that lack a liner made of plastic and clay of specific technical specifications. The order required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen, not weaken, the national coal ash standards established in 2015.

“The administration’s announcement opens the door to keeping some coal ponds open indefinitely that a court found should be closed to protect health, the environment, and drinking water. I’ve never seen an administration so willing to repeatedly violate a court order directing the EPA to protect the public’s health and environment,” said Lisa Evans, Earthjustice Senior Counsel.

Part B allows the EPA to determine that pits without a plastic and clay liner (or “composite liner”) can remain open if utilities claim that the soil under them is not porous, and a specific list of toxic chemicals are not (yet) polluting groundwater above federal standards. Ultimately, any utilities attempting to show that their ponds meet the new rule’s criteria can keep their toxic pits open during a potentially very extended assessment process.

The EPA’s draft “Part B” proposal contained additional dangerous provisions that would dramatically weaken the 2015 rule. It is still considering these provisions and plans to take action at a later date.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, this month or next, the EPA is expected to finalize another rollback that would drop the Obama administration’s plan to establish a requirement that coal plants set aside funds to clean up spills and the pollution caused by coal ash so the public doesn’t foot the bill. Cleanups are very costly. For example, the catastrophic TVA coal ash spill in Tennessee cost over $1 billion to clean up.

Read more about the Part B rule in this fact sheet. 

The devastating coal ash spill at Kingston, TN in December 2008.
The devastating coal ash spill at Kingston, TN in December 2008. One billion gallons of toxic coal ash spilled from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant, covering 300 acres, destroying homes, poisoning rivers and contaminating coves and residential drinking waters. (Photo courtesy of TVA)

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