Trump administration finalizes coal plant pollution rollback

FILE - The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo., Friday,  July 27, 2018.  The Trump administration has weakened an Obama-era rule aimed at stopping coal plant pollution that has contaminated streams, lakes and underground aquifers. The changes finalized Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, will allow utilities to use cheaper wastewater cleanup technologies and take longer to comply with pollution reduction guidelines adopted in 2015. Its the latest in a string of regulatory rollbacks for the coal power industry under Trump. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)
FILE - The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo., Friday, July 27, 2018. The Trump administration has weakened an Obama-era rule aimed at stopping coal plant pollution that has contaminated streams, lakes and underground aquifers. The changes finalized Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, will allow utilities to use cheaper wastewater cleanup technologies and take longer to comply with pollution reduction guidelines adopted in 2015. Its the latest in a string of regulatory rollbacks for the coal power industry under Trump. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BILLINGS, Mont. – The Trump administration on Monday finalized its weakening of an Obama-era rule aimed at reducing polluted wastewater from coal-burning power plants that has contaminated streams, lakes and underground aquifers

The change will allow utilities to use cheaper technologies and take longer to comply with pollution reduction guidelines that are less stringent than what the agency originally adopted in 2015.

It's the latest in a string of regulatory rollbacks for coal power under Trump — actions that have failed to turn around the industry's decline amid competition from cheap natural gas and renewable energy.

The latest rule change covers requirements for cleaning coal ash and toxic heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and selenium from plant wastewater before it is dumped into waterways.

Utilities are expected to save $140 million annually under the changes, which Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement would protect industry jobs in part by using a phased-in approach to reducing pollution.

But environmentalists and a former EPA officials warned the move will harm public health and result in hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants annually contaminating water bodies.

The new rule largely exempts coal plants that will retire or switch to burning natural gas by 2028.

Coal plants are responsible for as much as 30% of all toxic water pollution from all industries in the U.S. In the Southeast, that number is even higher.