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U.S. EPA proposes changes to coal ash regulations

WASHINGTON, March 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed changes to rules regulating coal ash waste from power plants that it said would give states more flexibility over its disposal and save electric utilities up to $100 million a year in compliance costs.

The proposal includes more than a dozen changes to an Obama-era rule that established minimum national standards for the disposal of coal ash, a byproduct of coal-based power plants that contains toxic materials such as arsenic and lead.

"Today's coal ash proposal embodies EPA's commitment to our state partners by providing them with the ability to incorporate flexibilities into their coal ash permit programs based on the needs of their states," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

In September, the EPA said it would reconsider the Obama-era rule after utility industry groups petitioned for changes.

Environmental groups warned in September that if the EPA rolled back the safeguards, it would put the public at risk because coal ash pits are located near waterways and groundwater.

The agency said it would be accepting public comment on the proposal for 45 days and planned to hold a public hearing.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)