Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

EPA to Weaken Public Protections Against Toxic Coal Ash in Water

Popular
Duke Energy reported that it spilled an estimated 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina in Feb. 2014. Waterkeeper Alliance / Rick Dove

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release several new rules in the coming weeks, many of which will relax regulations meant to protect the environment from industrial pollution. In a gift to the coal industry, the EPA will reverse course on regulations meant to reduce the amount of toxic heavy metals that leach into the water systems from the ash emitted by coal-fired power plants, according to The New York Times.


The New York Times broke the story from sources familiar with the EPA's plans. The Trump administration plans to weaken the 2015 rule that would have increased inspections and monitoring at coal-fired plants, lowered the amount of effluent plants could discharge, and required new technology to protect water supplies from coal ash contaminants. Not only will the new rules slacken some of those requirements, it will completely exempt a significant number of plants from complying with any of the requirements.

When the regulations were written, the Obama administration estimated oversight and new requirements would prevent around 1.4 billion pounds of toxic metals and pollutants from seeping into nearby rivers and streams. A source that knows the EPAs current plans told The New York Times that the new rules would actually remove more pollutants than the Obama-era rules. However, that math is based on having 30 percent of coal-fired plants voluntarily choosing to install new, expensive technology.

Those pollutants in drinking water can cause birth defects, cancer and stunted brain development in young children. Environmental groups quickly assailed the news of the regulatory rollback.

"[It's] "a huge step backward and incredibly dangerous," said Lisa Evans, general counsel for Earthjustice, to the The New York Times.

The move is ostensibly another deregulation to keep coal-fired plants from shutting down. Eight coal energy companies have already filed for bankruptcy this year as demand for coal energy plummets. Cleaner energy from renewables and natural gas has gotten cheaper and more efficient, making coal energy an unpalatable option in the marketplace.

The EPA is maneuvering to save a dying industry since the department's director, Andrew Wheeler, was a lobbyist for the coal industry. Energy analysts, however, told The New York Times that this latest rollback will not save the industry from its inevitable decline.

"While it might keep some existing coal plants running a little bit longer, it's at best a Band-Aid on a bullet wound that the market has sent the coal industry," said Joshua Rhodes, a senior energy analyst with Vibrant Clean Energy, to The New York Times.

The industry's record around toxic coal ash is abysmal. For years, it was not regulated, but spills in North Carolina and Tennessee that released billions of gallons of toxic sludge into waterways caused state and federal lawmakers to issue new rules over the containment of coal ash. A recent study also found that more than 90 percent of 265 coal-fired plants had unsafe levels of at least one contaminant in the groundwater near their coal ash dumps, as Reuters reported.

Environmental groups that keep tabs on the coal industry say that power plants discharge more than 1 billion pounds of pollutants every year into 4,000 miles of rivers. In turn, those pollutants contaminate the drinking water and fisheries of 2.7 million people, as The New York Times reported.

"That knowledge should lead E.P.A. to move to establish greater protections for our health," said Evans of Earthjustice to The New York Times. "But E.P.A. is running the other way under the direction of the utilities."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Refrigerated trucks function as temporary morgues at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal on May 06, 2020 in New York City. As of July, the states where COVID-19 cases are rising are mostly in the West and South. Justin Heiman / Getty Images

The official number of people in the U.S. who have lost their lives to the new coronavirus has now passed 130,000, according to tallies from The New York Times, Reuters and Johns Hopkins University.

Read More Show Less
A man walks on pink snow at the Presena glacier near Pellizzano, Italy on July 4, 2020. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP via Getty Images

In a troubling sign for the future of the Italian Alps, the snow and ice in a glacier is turning pink due to the growth of snow-melting algae, according to scientists studying the pink ice phenomenon, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Climate activist Greta Thunberg discusses EU plans to tackle the climate emergency with Parliament's environment committee on March 4, 2020. CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2020 – Source: EP

By Abdullahi Alim

The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.

Read More Show Less
A climate activist holds a victory sign in Washington, DC. after President Obama announced that he would reject the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal on November 6, 2015. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

The Supreme Court late Monday upheld a federal judge's rejection of a crucial permit for Keystone XL and blocked the Trump administration's attempt to greenlight construction of the 1,200-mile crude oil project, the third such blow to the fossil fuel industry in a day—coming just hours after the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the court-ordered shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Read More Show Less
A forest fire in Yakutsk in eastern Siberia on June 2, 2020. Yevgeny Sofroneyev / TASS via Getty Images

Once thought too frozen to burn, Siberia is now on fire and spewing carbon after enduring its warmest June ever, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
The Colima fir tree's distribution has been reduced to the area surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo

By Agustín del Castillo

For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Jeanette Cwienk

This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.

"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?

Read More Show Less