EPA to scrap Obama-era rule limiting water pollution from coal-fired power plants

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is planning to revoke an Obama-era measure limiting water pollution from coal-fired power plants, a letter from the agency’s chief released Monday shows.

In the missive, sent last week to two industry groups that had asked EPA to reconsider the rule, Administrator Scott Pruitt wrote he would seek to change the 2015 guidelines, which order increased treatment for wastewater from steam electric power-generating plants.

EPA estimates the rule, if implemented, will cost utilities $480 million in new wastewater treatment equipment, but would yield $500 million in public health benefits.

“After carefully considering your petitions, I have decided that it is appropriate and in the public interest to conduct a rulemaking to potentially revise (the regulations),” Pruitt wrote in the letter addressed to the pro-industry Utility Water Act Group and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

When the ruling was first released, it faced almost instant lawsuits coming from all sides. While the UWAG and others challenged the rule for being too strict, environmental groups and NGOs claimed it wasn’t harsh enough.

Yesterday, was the EPA’s deadline to explain in court how it plans to address those legal challenges to the wastewater rule, but as Pruitt has now made public he plans rewrite the standards, EPA has asked to court to freeze all suits.

The move comes only five months after President Donald Trump signed an executive order undoing the previous Administration’s Clean Power Plan, currently in the process of being rewritten by EPA.

The agency believes the 2015 rule, if implemented, would cost utilities $480 million in new wastewater treatment equipment, but it also would reduce power plant pollution by about 1.4 billion pounds a year. According to EPA, roughly 12% of the US’s steam electric power plants would have to make new investments to meet the higher standards.