Biden reverses Trump rollback and tightens limits on toxic pollution from coal power plants

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan says regulation would ‘further reduce power plant pollution that can contain toxic metals such as mercury, arsenic, and selenium’

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Monday 26 July 2021 21:08
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The Biden administration has reversed a Trump-era rollback on wastewater pollution from coal-power plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Monday that it would strengthen certain limits for coal plants that use steam to generate electricity.

The agency had undertaken a scientific review of the 2020 “Steam Electric Reconsideration Rule”, which was finalised towards the end of the Trump administration.

The Trump change had weakened a regulation on coal ash – the leftovers from coal after its been burned – put in place by former President Barack Obama in 2015, to limit contamination of water sources like streams, lakes and underground aquifers.

Steam electric plants use fossil fuels like coal, oil, and fossil gas, or nuclear reactions, to heat water in boilers, generating steam and in turn driving turbines connected to electric generators.

The plants create wastewater of chemical pollutants and thermal pollution (heated water) in the process, as well as from coal piles, yard and floor drainage.

In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said the agency “determined that moving forward with implementing the existing regulations would ensure that water resources are protected now, while we quickly move to strengthen water quality protections and further reduce power plant pollution that can contain toxic metals such as mercury, arsenic, and selenium”.

The Obama administration rule had set the first federal limits on levels of toxic metals in wastewater that can be discharged from power plants.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the EPA to review all regulations and policies undertaken by the previous administration and rescind or revise any that do not protect public health and the environment, the EPA noted.

Under former President Donald Trump, the EPA and other federal bodies carried out a host of rollbacks on regulations that had been designed to tackle the climate crisis and prevent environmental pollution.

Mr Trump made big promises to coal workers during the 2016 election campaign. At one rally in Charleston, West Virginia in May 2016, he stood in front of a crowd of miners holding signs that read “Trump Digs Coal” and vowed to reopen mines and put employees back to work across the country.

But despite the favourable rollbacks for coal power during his administration, the actions failed to turn around the industry’s decline amid competition from cheap gas and renewable energy.

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