By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Environmental activists plan to launch a campaign — along with a flotilla of canoes and kayaks — to raise awareness of pollutants discharged into waterways by coal-fired power plants.
The event is being organized by the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter as part of its Beyond Coal campaign. Organizers hope to spur support for proposed rules that would curtail the alphabet soup of toxic chemicals and heavy metals that escape coal-fired power plants and enter nearby waterways.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote the rules in response to a consent order issued in a lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club against the federal regulatory agency. The proposed rules, which are open to public comment until Sept. 20, would be phased in between 2017 and 2022.
Whitney Pearson, a field organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said residents who want to join the group Saturday at Three Forks Harbor should bring a canoe or kayak. Those who want to attend the picnic afterward should give advance notice to organizers.
“The main focus of this event is raising awareness about the need for these stricter rules,” Pearson said, noting she plans to share information from an upcoming report about the contamination of surface waters near these power plants. “The state permits don’t really do the job.”
Power plants that generate electricity with steam by burning fossil fuels — like OG&E’s Muskogee plant — could be affected by the new rules. Those rules would update Clean Water Act standards that have been in place since 1982 and incorporate technological advances developed during the past three decades.
Regulators say steam-electric power plants account for more than half of all toxic pollutants discharged into America’s streams, rivers and lakes. Discharges from these plants often include mercury, arsenic, lead, selenium and other pollutants that have been linked to neurological damage, cancer, and damage to the circulatory system, kidneys and liver.
The problem with toxic heavy metals like those targeted by the proposed rules arises because they do not break down in the environment. The accumulation of these pollutants contribute to the contamination of waterway sediments, impacting aquatic life and wildlife.
EPA officials estimate the rules would reduce discharges by 470 million to 2.62 billion pounds a year. They also would reduce water use by 50 billion to 103 billion gallons annually.
Brian Alford, an OG&E spokesman, said the company is continuing to assess the potential impact the EPA rules would have if they are implemented as written. He said earlier this year that OG&E and “others in the industry will be reviewing the regs to understand how they may impact customers and our business.”
Jenna Garland, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club’s southeast and south central divisions, said four out of five coal-fired power plants presently “have no limits on the amount of toxics they’re allowed to dump into our water ways.” The proposed rules, Garland said, are another reason why the use of coal as an energy source should be phased out and replaced “with new, cleaner generation like Oklahoma wind.”
Federal regulators extended the public comment period for the proposed rule until Sept. 20. EPA is under a consent decree to take final action by May 22, 2014.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
WHO: Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign organizers, members and supporters.
WHAT: Outing, flotilla and picnic to move Oklahoma beyond coal.
WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Three Forks Harbor, 5201 Three Forks Road, Fort Gibson.
CONTACT: Those who plan to attend or participate in the event are encouraged to notify organizers by navigating to beyondcoalok.org and click on the events tab.