Indiana environmentalists push back on EPA’s coal ash rules

Indiana environmentalists are criticizing the easing of toxic coal ash regulations by President Donald Trump's administration.

Environmental leaders say the new rule changes for coal-fired power plants put Indiana residents particularly at risk because the state has the most coal ash ponds in the country, The Indianapolis Star reported .

"There is nothing in this [decision] … that is beneficial to the public health or environment," said Lisa Evans, an attorney for not-for-profit environmental law organization Earthjustice.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced amendments Wednesday to Obama-era regulations for the disposal of coal ash from electric utilities. The ash left from burning coal contains contaminants such as arsenic, chromium and boron that can leach into nearby groundwater and waterways.

The changes give state regulators flexibility in how they deal with large waste piles resulting from burning coal for electricity. Other amendments push back the deadline to close problematic ash dumps, weaken drinking water regulations by removing some contamination limits and allowing state officials to end groundwater monitoring.

The revisions will save between $28 million and $31 million a year in regulatory costs, according to the EPA's announcement. The release didn't mention any benefits to the environment or public health as it relates to the rule.

Greater flexibility relating to ash dumps is the last thing Indiana needs, said Indra Frank, the environmental health and policy director with the Hoosier Environmental Council.

"The EPA's changes to the coal ash rule will set Indiana up for more groundwater contamination, a reduction in the number of contaminated sites that get cleaned up, slower cleanups for those that do and a higher risk of coal ash spills," Frank said.

As many as 15 power plants in Indiana have groundwater with dangerous levels of pollution, according to the newspaper's analysis. Frank said the toxins in the water around the ash ponds render the aquifers "unfit for human consumption" and raise the risk for cancer, heart disease and brain damage in children.

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