Since the start of his term, President Trump has had remarkable success in removing burdensome environmental rules from the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate the coal industry out of existence. These changes have brought jobs back to economically depressed areas and returned regulatory power back to the states on key environmental issues. Yet some in the green lobby fail to see how these policies were hurting Americans, instead arguing that removing these regulations will give fossil fuel companies free reign to dump toxic substances into water sources.
The issue of safe drinking water deals much more with how the water is treated than the source of the water. Water treatment infrastructure is the key to clean water. For example, the problems in Flint and New Jersey stemmed from poor infrastructure and not poor sources of water. Modern treatment plants can filter out all kinds of toxic substances and produce water that is safe to drink.
Therefore, the concerns of environmentalists about drinking water as a result of these less restrictive laws are unfounded, as the safety of drinking water does not depend as much on what is in the water to begin with. In fact, improving the financial strength of fossil fuel companies by smart deregulation will make sure governments are provided with significant tax revenue from businesses and those they employ to maintain water treatment facilities.
Not only will these rule changes not harm the environment, but returning the power to the states to regulate their water sources will increase both the financial stability of employers and the environmental conditions of America’s most important natural resource.
The Stream Protection Rule, passed by the Obama administration in 2016, required coal surface mining companies to restore mined land to their original physical and ecological states and banned coal miners from dumping debris within 100 feet of a perennial or intermittent stream. This rule would have effectively made coal surface mining uneconomical because of the hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory burdens it put on coal companies. In addition to coal companies feeling financial strains, working class families would hurt as their electricity costs would start to rise due to the government crowding out the coal industry.
In addition, by extending federal regulation far beyond what is allowed under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the Obama administration deprived states whose economies depend on coal mining of tens of thousands of jobs without any legitimate environmental concerns. Before this rule was enacted, the Department of Interior’s own reports showed that coal companies were not having any off-site impacts, were restoring land successfully, and were not breaking any state or federal laws. The Trump administration’s repeal of the Stream Protection Rule returns regulatory power rightfully back to states and relieves economically depressed areas of the country from frivolous rules that would impact millions of hard-working families.
In 2017 the EPA re-proposed an Obama-era rule imposing additional standards on byproducts of uranium “in-situ recovery (ISR) sites” (uranium mines) that sought to protect groundwater from toxic runoff from these facilities. These rules would have imposed strict groundwater standards post-restoration for these facilities that would have made it more difficult for ISR license applicants.
In 2018, the Trump administration’s EPA decided to withdraw this proposal for a number of reasons, chief of which was that the amount of ISR applicants were significantly lower than expected. Therefore, the EPA concluded there was not a need to impose additional standards on these facilities. This rule, had it been implemented, would have significantly hurt the uranium and nuclear industries, which provide one of the cleanest sources of electricity. While environmentalists argue this will allow uranium miners to pollute the water supply, the EPA has not been able to find a single instance of groundwater contamination from ISR facilities. The environmental outcry at this withdrawal is about alarmists’ obsession with energy sources that are renewable at the expense of energy sources that are efficient and clean like nuclear power.
In 2015, the EPA enacted this rule regulating the reuse and disposal of coal combustion residuals, otherwise known as coal ash. The original rule established strict monitoring standards for disposal facilities with more than 12,400 tons of coal ash, even if that material is meant for a beneficial use. Coal ash is commonly reused for building wallboard, concrete, and bricks in a more efficient and low-emitting way than traditional means.
Earlier this year the Trump administration began relaxing the more burdensome parts of this rule to better protect groundwater while not unduly burdening businesses. The changes removed the tonnage limit on facilities to be subject to the reporting requirements and instead requires reports based on proximity to groundwater aquifers. In addition, storage facilities for beneficial use will no longer be required to remain on site for them to count as beneficial use material. In addition, the final decision to require reporting of groundwater conditions will be left up to the states under these changes.
The Trump EPA’s changes will leave states in a better position to protect their water supply and maintain healthy economies. The new standards that base reporting requirements on proximity to important water sources will leave the regulations more efficient and better protect drinking water. This change is another great way the Trump administration is undoing previous attempts to regulate the coal industry out of business and jeopardize water quality with counterproductive regulations.
The Clean Water Act, finalized in 1972, sought to protect America’s waters from the dumping of pollutants and maintain safe water standards. Since its enactment, it has undergone numerous challenges regarding the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) provision that outlines which waters are subject to federal regulations. The 2015 rule instituted under President Obama greatly expanded the definition of WOTUS to include wetlands and bodies of water that are dry most of the year and are not connected to any major waterway or tributary.
The 2015 rule was the subject of multiple Supreme Court challenges and ultimately led to companies and individuals needing to take the EPA to court in order to determine if they were subject to federal regulations or not. The Trump administration has since begun to repeal and recodify the law to be consistent with court rulings and not intrude on the rights of states. These changes to WOTUS reverse the massive federal land grab of the Obama administration’s EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers and reclaim certainty about the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
In 2015 the EPA proposed a new rule that would regulate the amount of toxic materials that steam powered coal plants could discharge into waterways. The rule places limits on the levels of concentration certain harmful chemicals can be in wastewater and required coal plants to purchase the “best available technology” to remove these chemicals from their waste. The total cost for this proposal was estimated to be $480 million, which led the coal industry to ask the Trump administration to postpone the rule to give them more time to comply or revisit the “best available technology” requirement.
By postponing the rule, the Trump administration is relieving a significant financial burden on coal plants. The requirement for plants to implement the best available technology in order to comply with the rule shows that the Obama administrations motives were to impose an additional cost on coal companies, not protect water quality. The Trump administration’s consideration of revising the BAT portion of the rule will make sure companies are not subject to improper regulations while maintaining the discharge standards meant to protect water quality. The financial burden on coal companies would be felt widely in coal producing states in the Appalachians with lost jobs and higher electricity costs.