Trump EPA moves to roll back more rules on fuels pollution
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration said Thursday it is rewriting Obama-era rules governing pollution from oil and gas operations and coal ash dumps, moves that opponents say will significantly weaken protections for human health and the environment.
The changes proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency are the latest in series of actions taken over the last year to roll back regulations opposed by the fossil-fuel industry. The agency said the revisions would save electric utilities $100 million per year in compliance costs, while oil and gas operators would reap up to $16 million in benefits by 2035.
Environmental advocates predicted the revisions would lead to dirtier air and water.
The 2016 standards governing leaks and emissions from oil and gas drilling operations sought to reduce the amounts of methane and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. VOCs are a component of ground-level ozone, air pollution that can aggravate asthma and contribute to early deaths from respiratory disease.
In a statement, EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum said the changes will “provide regulatory certainty to one of the largest sectors of the American economy and avoid unnecessary compliance costs to both covered entities and the states.”
Prior to joining the Trump administration in November, Wehrum worked as a lawyer representing fossil fuel and chemical companies regulated by the EPA office he now leads.
Environmental groups said the Trump rollbacks would let large-scale polluters off the hook.
“This move would put an estimated 25 million people who live in counties with dangerously unhealthy air at even greater risk from oil and gas related air pollution by rolling back measures that are flexible, cost-effective and that have been proven to work by leading states and responsible companies,” said Matt Watson, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund.
The EPA also proposed amending rules to give state regulators more authority over how utilities dispose of the ash left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity. The gray ash, typically dumped near coal-fired power plants in unlined pits, contains toxic heavy metals such as lead and arsenic that over time can leach into groundwater or nearby rivers, potentially contaminating sources of drinking water.
“Today’s coal ash proposal embodies EPA’s commitment to our state partners by providing them with the ability to incorporate flexibilities into their coal ash permit programs based on the needs of their states,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.