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EGEB: EPA’s weakened coal rules threaten waterways and public health, UK stops fracking, more

In today’s Electrek Green Energy Brief (EGEB):

  • EPA weakens pollution rules on how power plants store coal waste and release metals into waterways.
  • The UK puts a moratorium on fracking.
  • New Delhi declares a health emergency due to the worst pollution in three years.
  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s new report says a US coast-to-coast transmission “super-grid” is possible.

The Electrek Green Energy Brief (EGEB): A daily technical, financial, and political review/analysis of important green energy news.

EPA weakens coal regulations

As of today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is relaxing rules for how power plants store coal waste and release toxic water into nearby waterways.

The Washington Post explains:

Under the new proposal, companies will have to stop placing coal ash into unlined storage ponds near waterways by August 31, 2020, and either retrofit these sites to make them more secure or begin to close them. Unlike the Obama-era rules, the EPA will allow greater leeway and more time for operators to request extensions ranging from 90 days to three years, until Oct. 15, 2023, if they can convince regulators that they need more time to properly dispose of the waste.

Trump administration officials revised the standards in response to recent court rulings and to petitions from companies that said they could not afford to meet stringent requirements enacted under the Obama administration.

During the past decade, Tennessee and North Carolina have experienced major coal ash spills that have destroyed homes and contaminated rivers, resulting in sickened cleanup workers and extensive lawsuits.

Environmentalists say that these relaxed rules potentially contaminate drinking water, thus threatening public health and wildlife. 95% of coal ash ponds are unlined and 92% leak more than federal standards allow.

The UK’s moratorium on fracking

The British government announced a moratorium on fracking in the UK on Saturday. The government said that the controversial gas extraction technique was too risky, potentially causing earth tremors to local communities. (The Labour party called the Conservative government’s decision a publicity stunt ahead of the December election.)

Fracking in England resumed last year after a seven-year moratorium. Reuters explains:

The decision follows a report on an incident at a site run by British energy company Cuadrilla near Blackpool, northern England where a 2.9-magnitude tremor shook houses in August.

An anti-fracking campaign by local people emerged as a flashpoint in a growing climate activist movement opposing new fossil fuel projects around the world. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested over the past few years for trying to disrupt Cuadrilla’s operations.

New Delhi is choking on pollution

India’s capital, New Delhi, has declared a health emergency as the city suffers the worst smog in three years. The level of pollution ingested is being compared to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

Schools will be closed until Tuesday, and the city has suspended all construction. Half of the city’s privately owned cars have been ordered off the road. As of 2016, New Delhi had 8.8 million registered motor vehicles.

The city is also distributing millions of pollution masks to New Delhi children. Further, flights were delayed and diverted on Sunday from New Delhi’s airport due to the heavy smog.

Government officials have blamed pollution, weather, and Diwali fireworks. They have also blamed the burning of wheat crop stubble in agricultural fires. According to the United Nations, 14 out of 15 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India. Coal provides half of India’s commercial primary energy and dominates its power generation.

US coast-to-coast super-grid … but DOE wants more research

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released the findings of a $1.5 million, two-year study that stated that a “coast-to-coast transmission ‘super-grid’ could be built across the United States for $80 billion and deliver economic gains of more than twice that amount, moving surplus renewable energy to major urban centers,” according to E&E News.

But the Department of Energy pulled back the report, saying they want more work on the report’s findings.

James McCalley, a senior Iowa State University engineering professor and a principal author of the study, said he is honoring the DOE’s request and expects to be finished by 2020. But the final report may not be released until 2022.

McCalley told E&E News:

My expectation is that [the additional analysis] probably will not change the basic thrust of our conclusions: High-capacity interregional transmission lines, particularly connecting the eastern and western grid compounds, have significant benefits.

If you want to see the full explanation of the report, watch this presentation by Aaron Bloom, the study’s lead architect, from July 2018:

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Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.