Despite a flagging economy, worldwide pandemic, and civil unrest in many areas of the United States, the Trump administration’s assault on the environment continues. The latest victim of the president’s campaign to rollback environmental protections put in place his predecessors is a regulation that requires coal plants to treat their wastewater, removing toxic substances such as sulfur dioxide, arsenic and mercury, before releasing it back into rivers and streams.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new “flexible, phased-in” methodology of the Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELGs) gives the coal industry a break from stringent rules, but it could also result in the release of more than a billion pounds of pollutants into U.S. waterways each year, the Washington Post reports.
“Newer, more affordable pollution control technologies and flexibility on the regulation’s phase-in will reduce pollution and save jobs at the same time,” Wheeler said.
Obama-era regulations would have required power plants to prove they were using he most up-to-date water treatment equipment, with a 5-year period to makes any necessary updates. The Trump administration moved the final deadline for compliance to 2025, listing exemptions for several dozen plants, excusing them from any responsibility for cleaning up wast water so long as they plan on closing by 2028.
According to E&E News, Power plants with the heaviest wastewater flows and coal power plants that restrict operation to peak power demand hours will be exempt fro following any waste treatment requirements.
“Those plants are allowed to release nearly 10 times as much mercury — 788 micrograms per liter daily — as plants that are not exempted from the treatment requirement, which are limited to 85 micrograms per liter daily,” E&E News reports.
The ELGs allow power plants to flush no more than 76 micrograms of selenium per liter of water into local water systems. That’s more than three times what was allowed under the Obama-era EPA, when the limit was set at 23 micrograms per liter.
Power plants are currently the biggest contributors of industrial pollution to fresh water systems in the United States.
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