After 3 decades of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to set long-overdue standards to limit the dumping of billions of pounds of toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants into U.S. waterways and drinking water sources.
On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in a press conference held on the banks of Mountain Island Lake near Charlotte, NC, a coalition of environmental organizations and clean water groups released a national investigative report analyzing the multiple options comprising the proposal titled Closing the Floodgates: How the Coal Industry is Poisoning Our Waters and How We Can Stop It. Environmental experts from The Environmental Integrity Project, The Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Earthjustice and the Waterkeeper Alliance reviewed data from 386 coal-fired power plants across the country and found that the Clean Water Act has been almost universally ignored by for almost three decades by power companies and permitting agencies. The report found that:
At least 5.5 billion pounds of water pollution is released into the environment by coal-fired plants every year, including nearly 80,000 pounds of arsenic alone. Coal-fired power plants dump more toxics into our waters than the other top nine polluting industries combined.
Tens of thousands of miles of rivers are degraded by this pollution.
The EPA has identified more than 250 individual instances where coal plants have harmed ground or surface waters.
Nearly half of the 386 power plants studied are operating with expired Clean Water Act permits. 53 have permits which expired 5 or more years ago.
Over 30% have no requirements to monitor or report the discharge to governmental agencies or the public.
70% have no limits on toxic substances such as arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury and selenium.
71 plants were dumping toxics into rivers, lakes, streams and bays that have already been declare impaired due to poor water quality.
CLOSE TO HOME
In Belews Lake, just one decade of coal waste dumping eliminated 18 or the 20 fish species and left dangerous levels of contamination more than 10 years later.
In Hyco Reservoir, coal plant dumping led to a $864 million fish kill and selenium levels in blue gill 1,000 times greater than normal.
A survey of waters affected by nine power plants in North Carolina found contamination all across the state exceeding human and aquatic life standards for arsenic, antinomy, cadmium, selenium and thallium.
The report calls the Catawba River, the French Broad River and the Cape Fear River “Coal Rivers: Duke Energy’s Toxic Legacy in North Carolina.” Groundwater monitoring revealed leaking at every single one of the 10 coal-burning power plants in North Carolina. Three of the reservoirs on the Catawba are heavily polluted. Duke Energy is allowed to dump approximately 8 million gallons per day of scrubber sludge and ash water into Lake Norman with no limits on arsenic and water. Lake Norman provides drinking water for many nearby towns.
Coal ash was pumped for many years into two unlined ash ponds that are leaking toxic metals into Mountain Island Lake, the sole drinking water source for more than 8000,000 people in the Charlotte area. Even though the Riverbend Station is no long operating, it continues to pollute and monitoring is inadequate.
The G.G. Allen, further down the Catawba, has no enforceable limits on discharges.
The Duke Energy L.V. Sutton power plant on the Cape Fear River has recorded in its own discharge monitoring reports that it discharged 603 pounds of arsenic to the river, along with 526 pounds of selenium in 2012 alone. Leaks from the coal ash ponds into groundwater have been documented. The river below the Sutton plant has high levels of nickel and copper and is considered unsafe for harvesting aquatic life, even though it is a popular sportfishing lake. Fish in the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the river have been found to contain high levels of mercury.
ACTION IS REQUIRED
The report goes on to report that the technology to eliminate coal ash wastewater completely already exists and is cost effective. The EPA estimates that ending toxic dumping from coal plants would cost less than one percent of annual revenue for most coal companies.
Unfortunately, EPA’s proposal includes many options. The report mentioned that the EPA proposal came back from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with new, weaker options. Some of these would do little to control dangerous dumping. Only “Option 5” would set “zero discharge” standards that would require plants to clean up almost entirely.
Environmentalists across the country are speaking out, including Robert Wendelgass, Clean Water Action’s president and CEO: “The EPA must end the power plant industries’ free pass to pollute into already damaged waterways and other vital waters that are sources of drinking water for millions of Americans.”
Many local events will be held across the country, from a “toxic lemonade stand” in Pennsylvania to a “Miss and Mr. Toxic Water Swimsuit Competition in Missouri and a fish-less fry in Illinois.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Read the report.
- Send the report to as many people as you can, including your local news media.
- Tell the EPA to choose option 5 during the public comment period which ends September 20.
- Tell as many people as you can to tell the EPA to choose option 5.
- Post the report and EPA link to your website, facebook, and twitter. Use the following hashtags: #notoxicwater, #kickcoalash, #protectcleanwater, #swimdrinkfish
- Cross post the many news stories that will appear across the U.S.
- Create and participate in public events to raise awareness.