Trump Admin Weakens Obama-Era Rule to Limit Toxic Waste From Coal Plants
The Trump administration announced that it would roll back a rule from 2015 that was put in place to limit the amount of toxic chemicals that are in the wastewater of coal plants, according to The Washington Post.
The rule insisted that coal plants invest in newer technologies to treat their wastewater so toxic heavy metals like lead, selenium and arsenic are not leached into nearby rivers and streams where they can damage fragile ecosystems and also seep into drinking water, as The Washington Post reported.
The new regulations put forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is run by Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the coal industry, allows coal plants to dial back their investment in new technologies; the regulations delay the date that plants needed to be in compliance, and they exempt some coal-fired plants from taking any corrective or pollution-limiting action, according to The New York Times.
The compliance date is pushed back to 2025 for some plants. The ones exempted from the rule are done so with the expectation that they will be retired by 2028.
The "effluent limitations" regulations that the EPA rolled out Monday will save the coal industry $140 million, according to Reuters.
"Newer, more affordable pollution control technologies and flexibility on the regulation's phase-in will reduce pollution and save jobs at the same time," said Wheeler, as Reuters reports.
The Obama administration had said that the 2015 rule would limit 1.4 billion pounds of toxic pollutants from entering U.S. waterways each year. Coal plants use scrubbers to capture mercury, sulfur dioxide and heavy metals that would be emitted through smoke stacks. That rule has been in place since the 1980s, but what to do with those trapped pollutants is a thorny issue. Coal plants had been allowed to dump them into nearby waterways until the 2015 rule took effect, according to The New York Times.
And yet, without evidence, the current EPA said it expects the same or even greater pollution reductions because coal plants will supposedly adopt the newer technologies voluntarily. The EPA's math is based on the assumption that 30 percent of coal plants will implement technologies that are beyond the regulations required by the EPA, according to The Guardian.
"It's clear from this rule that a relatively inexpensive treatment technology is available – the one that they made voluntary – that would eliminate the toxic contamination of drinking water supplies and is very affordable. And yet they did not require it," said Betsy Southerland, an Obama EPA water official, to The Guardian. "People should be very concerned."
Environmental activists quickly criticized the rule as a gift to the coal industry and a shortsighted measure that ignored the health of the wildlife and people that live near coal plants, according to The Washington Post.
Thomas Cmar, an attorney with Earthjustice, told The New York Times that the EPA's actions will allow older, dirtier coal plants to stay alive longer since they do not have to invest in upgrades.
"There are dozens of water bodies around the country where the local water is significantly impacted by this type of direct dumping of toxic metals from power plants," said Cmar to The Times.
Cmar said Earthjustice will attempt to stop the rollback in court.
"Giving coal companies a free pass to dump more toxic heavy metals like mercury and arsenic into our waters is a travesty," Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an email, to The Washington Post. "This shameless handout will allow greater amounts of these dangerous pollutants to be spewed directly into our waterways, threatening public health and pushing hundreds of aquatic endangered species, including salmon, sturgeon and hellbender salamanders, closer to extinction."
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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