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THE US government has announced that it is planning to water down anti-pollution rules, amounting to a £75 million a year handout to electricity companies and oil and gas firms.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said late on Thursday that it was planning to shred the 2016 rules, drawn up in a bid to slash emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — as well as substances that cause hazardous air pollution.
Those rules were strongly opposed by giant fossil fuel companies, who have backed President Donald Trump’s efforts to scrap environmental regulations.
As well as worsening catastrophic climate change, experts predicted that scrapping the 2016 rules would lead to dirtier air and water.
It would also significantly weaken rules put in place to protect human health.
The 2016 standards governing leaks and emissions from oil and gas drilling operations sought to reduce the amounts of methane and volatile organic compounds.
Those compounds are a component of ground-level ozone, air pollution that can aggravate asthma and contribute to early deaths.
EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation Bill Wehrum said the changes will “provide regulatory certainty to one of the largest sectors of the American economy and avoid unnecessary compliance costs.”
Mr Wehrum previously worked as a lawyer representing fossil fuel and chemical companies. He joined the Trump administration in November and now heads the EPA office that regulates his former paymasters.
Environmental Defence Fund spokesman Matt Watson said: “This move would put an estimated 25 million people who live in counties with dangerously unhealthy air at even greater risk from oil and gas related air pollution by rolling back measures that are flexible, cost-effective and that have been proven to work by leading states and responsible companies.”
The EPA is also proposing to make it easier for electricity companies to dump poisonous ash left over from burning coal.
The ash contains toxic heavy metals — such as arsenic and lead — and is usually dumped into unlined pits, with the poisons leaching into groundwater and rivers.
It would be a reversal from previous EPA plans, which had set a deadline for utility firms to report such hazardous contamination.
“Instead of protecting American communities and rivers from coal ash, EPA is trying to bail out utilities polluting our waterways and drinking water supplies,” said campaigning lawyer Frank Holleman.
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