With Rollback, Trump Administration Unleashes Toxic Water Pollution From Coal Plants Into Drinking
Monday, November 4, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Former coal lobbyist and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced another rollback of a key water toxics safeguard today -- a move that would allow the vast majority of coal plants across the country to dump their toxic, industrial sludge into the drinking water of millions of Americans. Formally known as the 2015 Effluent Limitation Guidelines, implementation of the water toxics rule was infamously frozen in 2017 by Scott Pruitt, Wheeler’s scandal-ridden predecessor, and then reinstated, but with the compliance deadlines pushed back by two years. As a result, communities have borne the burden of these toxic discharges, despite the Clean Water Act’s requirement that EPA regularly strengthen standards to remove, and ultimately eliminate, pollutants from coal plant wastewater.
The water toxics rule issued in 2015 represented a significant step towards cleaner water, and reflected years of work by EPA staff, informed by numerous technical and scientific studies, public hearings, and hundreds of thousands of comments demanding strong standards to combat toxic water contamination from coal plants. Before the 2015 water toxics rule, water standards had not been updated since 1982 and it took significant legal action from public health groups to get EPA to develop and finalize the 2015 update.
EPA’s own data show that coal plants are the number-one source of industrial toxic water pollution in the country—mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, and dozens of other metals that are extremely harmful to human health and ecosystems even in very small quantities. Today, coal plants are responsible for almost one-third of all toxic water pollution in the United States’ waters.
In response to the water toxics rollback, Mary Anne Hitt, Senior Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, released the following statement:
“Andrew Wheeler and Donald Trump proved again today that they will put the drinking water of millions of Americans at risk. This time, they are allowing dirty coal plants to dump their industrial waste into our rivers, streams, and waterways -- all just to save wealthy coal and utility executives a few dollars. This rollback is a travesty and a threat to the health of our communities, so you can bet that Andrew Wheeler will be hearing from us. There is no reason why any parent should have to think twice about giving their child safe water from a faucet, but by rolling back this safeguard, and so many others, Wheeler is threatening to ensure that toxic water becomes the norm across our country for decades to come. This rollback won’t revive the coal industry either, as coal plants continue to retire and Americans demand the cheaper clean energy now available nationwide.
“The proposed rule not only weakens the protections against toxic pollutants in scrubber sludge and bottom ash wastewater, but also creates enormous carve-outs from even those lax standards. Eligibility for these carve-outs is so broad, and subject to gaming by coal plants, that the exceptions practically swallow the rule. That’s why we are launching an ad campaign to educate the public on the dangers of this rollback and organizing Americans to submit comments to EPA against it.”