Grist Gets Very Confused on EPA’s Coal Ash Rule

by William Yeatman on December 24, 2014

in Blog

Over at Grist, Ben Adler repackaged press releases from Sierra Club and NRDC into a story about the supposed leniency of EPA’s final coal ash rule, a pre publication version of which was issued last Friday. Of course, retransmitting pressers by environmental special interests is nothing new for Grist’s brand of “independent green journalism.” And if the author had limited himself to parroting green groups, I’d have no reason to post. But in the second half of his blog entry, Adler took it upon himself to try to do some real reporting, and that’s when he got into trouble. To be precise, he reported on the wrong rule.

Per Adler,

And make no mistake, this weak rule comes from the White House, not apolitical bureaucrats at EPA. As a ProPublica investigation in July demonstrated, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is part of the White House Office of Management and Budget, used its review of the proposed regulation to weaken it. From the story:

The EPA sent OIRA its proposed new rules in January 2013. The agency submitted five options from which it would choose the final rule. In its draft, the EPA indicated it would likely pick one of two options, which it listed as “preferred.” Both set relatively tough standards on power companies…

When the rule on coal ash effluent emerged from OIRA, three more options had been added, a diluting of the two options the EPA favored. OIRA’s draft dropped the tougher of EPA’s preferred rules and identified those new, less demanding options as favored…

The problem is that the ProPublica story was referring to a proposed Clean Water Act rule, known as “effluent limitations guidelines for the steam electric power generating point source category.” By contrast, the final rule promulgated last Friday is the “disposal of coal combustion residuals from electric utilities” pursuant to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

I can understand how Adler got confused. The rules overlap to a considerable degree (i.e., both largely pertain to coal combustion residuals, aka “coal ash”). In fact, virtually all the stringency desired by greens like Adler in last Friday’s coal ash rule can be achieved via the pending Clean Water Act rule. Moreover, both proposals were vetted by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. (Last week, I explained this beneficial process).

Despite their similarities, they remain different rule-makings, a distinction about which Mr. Adler is evidently ignorant.

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