Statement: Dual EPA rollbacks weaken clean water protections against toxic coal waste

For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released two proposals today to roll back clean water protections against waste from coal-fired power plants. The first proposal would overhaul wastewater rules, drastically weakening safeguards that prevent utilities from discharging toxic pollutants like arsenic, lead and mercury into America’s waterways. The second proposal would significantly extend closure dates for coal ash disposal sites, allowing utilities to continue storing toxic coal debris in ponds that can leak or overflow, for decades.

Environment America highlighted the dangers of coal ash ponds in its Accidents Waiting to Happen report. In 2014, for example, 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash and 27 million gallons of coal ash pit water spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina after a pipe burst at the Dan River Steam Station.

Bart Johnsen-Harris, clean water advocate for Environment America, issued the following statement:

“Coal waste is dangerous to both human health and our environment — the two things that the EPA is tasked to protect. We need to keep this toxic waste out of our waterways.

“These rollbacks would allow significant threats to our rivers, lakes and streams to continue. According to the EPA’s own data, power plants account for 30 percent of toxic discharges to waterways, including arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium — a cancer-causing substance. Yet the agency’s first proposal would allow these facilities to continue dumping more toxic substances into waterways. 

“The EPA’s second proposal would dramatically delay the closure and cleanup of coal ash ponds, which pose risks to both groundwater and surface waters. As highlighted in our Accidents Waiting to Happen report, several of these coal ash pits are located in flood zones, creating an additional threat of contamination during severe storms.

“The sad truth is that burning coal produces arsenic, mercury, lead and selenium — toxic waste that has no place in the lakes where we swim, the rivers where we fish or the water we drink. Yet instead of transitioning us away from these toxic hazards, the EPA would allow power plants to continue dumping them into our waterways. We cannot allow our nation to go backwards on clean water.”