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Coal ash delays help US EPA exceed savings goals under Trump's '2-for-1' order

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Coal ash delays help US EPA exceed savings goals under Trump's '2-for-1' order

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has far exceeded its deregulatory mandate under President Donald Trump's executive order requiring federal agencies to eliminate two regulations for every one they create, according to a new internal watchdog report.

Over the course of fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the EPA finalized a total of 26 deregulatory actions and just four regulatory actions, producing cost savings of $21.5 million and $75.1 million in those years, respectively, according to an Aug. 9 report from the agency's Office of Inspector General.

Signed by Trump in January 2017, Executive Order 13771 is commonly referred to as the "two-for-one" order. Agencies are considered in compliance with the directive if their total deregulatory actions number at least two times their total regulatory actions and their cost savings goals are met.

For 2017, the order required the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be no greater than zero dollars. In subsequent guidance, the White House Office of Management and Budget gave the EPA a regulatory cost savings goal for 2018 of $40 million.

A large portion of the agency's savings in 2017 and 2018 flowed from the extension of deadlines related to the storage and handling of coal ash.

The EPA estimated that it saved $64.5 million in incremental costs by postponing Obama-era effluent limitation guidelines in September 2017 designed to limit the discharge of toxic pollutants from coal-fired power generators, according to the EPA inspector general's report. Those savings were partially offset, however, by $54.3 million in regulatory costs associated with new effluent limitation guidelines for dental facilities, the report found. EPA regulations address the discharge of mercury from dental facilities into water sources.

In addition, the agency estimated it avoided another $25.9 million in incremental costs by acting in July 2018 to give electric utilities more time to shut down coal ash storage sites found in violation of the Obama-era Coal Combustion Residuals rule.

Both EPA actions dealing with coal ash were challenged by environmental groups.

In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the EPA by giving the agency more time to reconsider its July 2018 action extending closure deadlines for coal ash facilities. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in May heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the EPA's September 2017 move to postpone its effluent limitations guidelines. A month earlier, the same court vacated two provisions of the Obama-era effluent limitation guidelines as too weak and remanded them back to the EPA for further rulemaking.

That same month, state attorneys general for California, Minnesota and Oregon challenged the "two-for-one" executive order in federal court, arguing the policy is arbitrary and capricious because it requires agencies to make determinations based solely on cost without considering the benefits or protections lost by eliminating existing rules.

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