The concept of regulations is to address problems. All regulations are based on trying to correct a problem that has already occurred. We have rules that were developed to try to address contaminants in water, and rules designed to address a variety of potential threat to water supplies. In a blog over a year ago I asked the question, in light of the mess in West Virginia, why do we permit power companies to store coal ash next to streams? This is a huge potential health impact to water customers, as well as to the ecosystem that we rely on to protect water supplies in natural areas. A 20 year old Congressional Act did sorta prohibit the discharge of coal ash to streams from mining, but did not address storage where the accidents actually occur. So we have rules that didn’t remove the piles from the banks, and didn’t offer a solution to remove it which would have been the appropriate regulatory response. We should all be on the bandwagon that urges Congress to require power companies to properly dispose of this stuff, and to provide a means to do so.
However, in classic “Failure to Learn from the Past” mode, instead we get a directive in Washington to review the rollback of the stream rule that was developed to address a 20 year old lawsuit over stream protections and “waters of the US.” That revised stream rule got held up in 2015 by litigation (EPA Secretary Pruitt led one of those suits), and while the directive is not exactly allowing coal ash into streams as noted in the media, it does give you the sense that there will not be any effort to address this problem. That should concern water industry leaders.