Federal regulators say Missouri's plan to oversee the disposal of toxic waste from coal-fired power plants fails to adequately protect human health and the environment

Federal regulators say Missouri's plan to oversee the disposal of toxic waste from coal-fired power plants fails to adequately protect human health and the environment.

St. Louis Public Radio reports that the Environmental Protection Agency said in a letter to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that several provisions in Missouri's plan are weaker than the 2015 federal coal ash rule.

Some provisions allow the DNR to waive requirements for utility companies to clean up groundwater contamination or monitor groundwater for toxic chemicals if they can show that it doesn't affect drinking-water supplies or harm the environment.

Contamination has been detected near many coal ash ponds and landfills in Missouri.

DNR officials declined comment on the letter from the EPA.

Andy Knott of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign was critical of the DNR.

"I think that this is astonishing and that it's just further evidence that the DNR cares more about the demands of the coal utilities than the needs of Missourians for clean water," Knott said at a public hearing hosted Thursday by the DNR in Jefferson City.

Utility representatives say Missouri's proposed rule is just as protective of human health and the environment as the federal rule. Trey Davis, president of the Missouri Energy Development Association, said Congress didn't require state rules to be identical to federal rules.

"Nor did Congress say that each line in the rules must match federal requirements," Davis said.

A Washington University law clinic recently found excessive levels of arsenic, boron and other harmful chemicals near all ponds that are receiving coal ash waste. The law clinic represents the Labadie Environmental Organization, a group of residents pushing Ameren Missouri to remove coal ash from its ponds at the Labadie Energy Center in eastern Missouri.

"We drink well water, and many of us are scared of that the pollution they have found will end up hurting us and our neighbors," 12-year-old Ella Alt told DNR officials at Thursday's hearing. She attends school near the Labadie Energy Center.

DNR is accepting feedback on its plan until Thursday and expects that the state regulations will be effective by Sept. 30.