In a move that critics are calling "deeply disturbing," the Trump administration announced on Wednesday a two-year delay to an Obama-era rule limiting wastewater pollution at coal plants.
In 2015 the Obama administration developed new limits on metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic in coal-fired plants' wastewater, set to go into effect in 2018. The pollutants in question "can cause severe health problems, including cancer and lowered I.Q. among children, as well as deformities and reproductive harm in fish and wildlife," according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which fought against the rollback of the limits.
The Environmental Protection Agency is postponing the rules in order to provide "relief from the existing regulatory deadlines while the agency revisits some of the rule's requirements," said EPA head Scott Pruitt in a statement. The EPA now has until 2020 to study the effects of the regulations before they go into effect.
While Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry defend the rollback as a way to save money and jobs, the EPA itself has found that the pollution limits would save between $450 million and $566 million per year. Earthjustice called the delay to the limits "a bold-faced gift to the coal industry at the expense of the health of families everywhere."
Howard Crystal of the Center for Biological Diversity added, "It's deeply disturbing to see the Trump administration giving power plants permission to keep dumping toxic metals like arsenic into our rivers and drinking water supplies. This mind-bogglingly dangerous decision threatens our children's well-being and the survival of endangered wildlife."
The wastewater rule delay is just the latest of President Donald Trump's rollbacks of Obama-era environmental regulations. Last month, just before Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area with severe flooding, the president passed an executive order to speed up approvals for infrastructure projects in flood-prone zones by weakening environmental review rules. In another move affecting the coal industry, he also signed a bill reversing the Stream Protection Rule which protects streams from mountaintop removal mining debris.
"The EPA is tossing out safeguards that would finally address our nation's leading source of toxic water pollution while the drinking water of millions of Americans hangs in the balance," Crystal said of the most recent rollback. "We will fight to reverse this decision and make sure the Trump administration prioritizes protecting our health and wildlife over padding the pockets of polluters."