Clean-water advocates released a report Tuesday that documents how some power companies have evaded regulatory oversight during the past three decades.
The report, based upon a review of pollution discharge permits issued to 386 coal-fired power plant operators across the country, also presents a case for the need for stricter regulations. Leaders of the five national advocacy groups involved with the study say, based on toxicity, coal-fired power plants have become the largest source of toxic water pollution in the country.
“Allowing coal polluters to fill our rivers and lakes with this witches brew of toxic chemicals threatens public health and diminishes quality of life for Americans,” Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr., said during a teleconference Tuesday morning. “The Clean Water Act is one of our nation’s greatest achievements. But 40 years after this critical legislation was passed, the coal industry is still polluting with impunity, thanks to a loophole no other industry has enjoyed.”
The organizations’ analysis of 386 coal-fired power plants found 274 of those facilities, almost 71 percent, discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into the nation’s waterways. Of those 274 power plants, 188 are permitted to operate without any limits imposed for the toxic pollutants discharged — six of those facilities, including Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s Muskogee Generation Facility, are located in Oklahoma.
Whitney Pearson, a field organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Oklahoma, said the six permitted facilities examined here have no legal duty to monitor or report toxic discharges.
“This report makes it clear that utility companies in Oklahoma need lessons in common sense: Dumping poisons into our water without rigorous monitoring and reporting threatens the health, drinking water and recreation opportunities in Oklahoma,” Pearson said.
Abigail Dillen, vice president of Earthjustice’s climate and energy, said the EPA’s original draft of its proposed rules offered “affordable treatment solutions for a serious water pollution problem.”
The EPA’s proposed rules are open until Sept. 20 for public comment.
Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said he doesn’t oppose industry officials from taking part of the rule-making process, but he objects to the executive branch allowing them to rewrite the rules with weaker “options plowed in at the last minute.” Schaeffer said if EPA finalizes the weaker rules, there is ample information in the public record to challenge those rules in court.
The rules being considered were written pursuant to a consent order issued in a lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club against the EPA. The court order requires those rules be finalized by May 22 and would be phased in between 2017 and 2022.
EPA officials estimate the rules would reduce discharges by 470 million to 2.62 billion pounds a year and reduce water use by 50 billion to 103 billion gallons annually. The regulatory agency estimates most coal-fired power plants would incur no additional costs as a result of the proposed standards.
Discharges from coal-fired power plants often include mercury, arsenic, lead and selenium, pollutants that have been linked to neurological damage, cancer and damage to the circulatory system, kidneys and liver.
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To find a copy of “Closing the Floodgates: How the Coal Industry is Poisoning Our Water and How We Can Stop It” and other documents related to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed water quality rules: www.environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/07_23_2013.php.
Rules proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants from certain power plants into waterways and information about filing comments: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/wastetech/guide/steam-electric/proposed.cfm