Rule to limit mercury and arsenic in waterways is delayed by the EPA

Administrator Scott Pruitt wants more “review.”

The Four Corners coal-fired power plant is located near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan,
The Four Corners coal-fired power plant is located near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan,

The Environmental Protection Agency would like to delay an Obama-era rule that limits the amount of toxins power plant operators can dump into waterways, the agency announced late last week.

In a new rule, expected to be published this week in the Federal Register, the agency has proposed delaying the compliance dates of the 2015 Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines until the EPA reviews them.

Environmental groups characterized the EPA’s decision to delay implementation of the rule as in line with the Trump administration’s attempt to conduct a broad rollback of regulations designed to protect public health. The Obama administration estimated that the 2015 rule would keep 1.4 billion pounds of toxic metals and other pollutants out of waterways each year.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the proposed delay, if finalized, will give the administration time to “carefully consider the next steps for this regulation.” He also touted the decision as one of nearly two dozen “regulatory reform” actions that he has taken during his brief tenure as EPA administrator. The decision is designed “to protect the environment, jobs and affordable, reliable energy,” he said in a May 25 statement.

In an earlier press release announcing his decision to reconsider the final rule, Pruitt said “some of our nation’s largest job producers have objected to this rule, saying the requirements set by the Obama administration are not economically or technologically feasible within the proscribed [sic] timeframe.”

The protections targeted steam electric power plants — which often run on coal— that dump large amounts of toxic pollutants into streams every year.

Electric plants dump 64,400 pounds of lead, 2,820 pounds of mercury, 79,200 pounds of arsenic, and 1,970,000 pounds of aluminum into the country’s waterways every year. Some of these pollutants, including arsenic, are known carcinogens, while others, such as lead, have been linked to developmental and reproductive problems. This pollution has also been linked to fish die-offs, the EPA explained in 2015.

When the EPA finalized the rule almost two years ago, environmental advocates contended the decision to act on the issue was long overdue. But they also predicted industry advocates and lawmakers would likely include the rule in their “war on coal” rhetoric.

The Sierra Club portrayed Pruitt’s plan to delay compliance deadlines with the rule as another action by the Trump administration to appease the coal industry. “Scott Pruitt is so beholden to the uneconomical and failing coal industry that he is willing to put the water of millions of families across the country at risk so billionaire coal executives can save a few dollars,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement.

The EPA is requesting a 30-day comment period that will begin upon the proposed rule’s publication in the Federal Register.