EPA acts like a friend

The Korea Times - - OPINION - This ed­i­to­rial ap­peared in the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch and was dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency, LLC.

The premise un­der­ly­ing nearly a half cen­tury of U.S. en­vi­ron­men­tal law is that no one has a right to poi­son the air and wa­ter that all Amer­i­cans con­sume. Un­der Scott Pruitt’s di­rec­tion, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency seems just fine with in­creas­ing Amer­i­cans’ ex­po­sure to in­dus­trial tox­ins as long as it ful­fills Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s prom­ise to re­vive the na­tion’s mori­bund coal in­dus­try.

The EPA pro­poses to loosen pol­lu­tion re­stric­tions on coal-burn­ing util­i­ties that pro­duce a con­tam­i­nant known as coal ash. The EPA says coal ash is one of the largest in­dus­trial waste streams gen­er­ated in the United States. It is pro­duced pri­mar­ily by coal-fired power plants and con­tains a can­cer-caus­ing, toxic mix of ar­senic, mer­cury, cad­mium and other heavy met­als.

Coal-burn­ing util­i­ties pro­duce an es­ti­mated 110 million tons of coal ash an­nu­ally, stor­ing it in gi­ant pits. One for­mer EPA top of­fi­cial has de­scribed the stor­age pits as “tick­ing time bombs.”

Guide­lines for the EPA’s pro­posed changes, is­sued Aug. 15, in­cluded re­quire­ments for states seek­ing to de­vi­ate from fed­eral coal ash rules to come up with specif­i­cally de­signed poli­cies. Watch­dog groups say the stan­dards are too loose, too util­ity-friendly and will per­mit states to weaken reg­u­la­tory en­force­ment be­low fed­eral stan­dards.

In his plan to pare back reg­u­la­tory over­sight, Pruitt sug­gested that pro­tect­ing pub­lic health is not his pri- mary con­cern. “As part of EPA’s on­go­ing com­mit­ment to co­op­er­a­tive fed­er­al­ism, we con­tinue to con­sult with our state part­ners to find the best man­age­ment strat­egy for the safe dis­posal of coal ash in each of their states,” he said.

The EPA is well aware of the po­ten­tial pub­lic health dan­gers and says that im­prop­erly built or man­aged coal ash dis­posal units have been linked to sur­face, ground wa­ter and air con­tam­i­na­tion. Ma­jor coal ash spills near Kingston, Tenn., in 2009, and Eden, N.C., in 2014, high­lighted the need for fed­eral over­sight. The spills caused wide­spread en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic dam­age.

Reg­u­la­tion of coal ash falls squarely in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s reg­u­lato- ry do­main be­cause con­tam­i­nated air and wa­ter are not re­stricted to a sin­gle state’s boundaries. One state’s loose con­trols very of­ten mean that neigh­bor­ing states suf­fer the con­se­quences, and watch­dog groups say state reg­u­la­tors typ­i­cally are more le­nient. Eas­ing reg­u­la­tions to im­prove the busi­ness cli­mate is a short-sighted pol­icy. The EPA needs to lis­ten to pub­lic con­cerns. It may learn some­thing.

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