New Report Highlights Extent of Coal Plant Water Pollution, OMB Obstruction

July 23, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC — A new report released today by the Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Clean Water Action highlights the critical need to clean up power plant water pollution. The report, “Closing the Floodgates: How the Coal Industry Is Poisoning Our Water and How We Can Stop It,” found that:

  •  In the absence of any effective pollution limit, coal plants have become by far the largest source of toxic water pollution in the country, based on toxicity.
  • Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways, nearly 70 percent (188) have no limits on the toxics most commonly found in these discharges (arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium) that are dumped directly into rivers, lakes, streams and bays.
  • Of these 274 coal plants, more than one-third (102) have no requirements to monitor or report discharges of these toxic metals to government agencies or the public.
  • A total of 71 coal plants surveyed discharge toxic water pollution into rivers, lakes, streams and bays that have already been declared impaired due to poor water quality. Of these plants that are dumping toxic metals into impaired waterways, more than three out of four coal plants (59) have no permit that limits the amount of toxic metals it can dump.
  • Nearly half of the coal plants surveyed (187) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. 53 of these power plants are operating with permits that expired five or more years ago.

Based on available water permits, the groups surveyed 386 coal plants across the country and identified 274 coal plants that discharge either coal ash or scrubber wastewater. The report reviewed the extent to which the permits limit – or require monitoring of – the discharge of arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium; the expiration date of the permits; and the health of the receiving stream.

The troubling results of the groups’ investigation are due in large part to the lack of any binding federal standards limiting toxic pollution from coal plants. Existing standards that apply to coal plant wastewater were established in 1982 and do not cover most of the worst pollutants. The EPA has repeatedly acknowledged that existing guidelines have not kept pace with developments in the industry. However, for more than three decades the EPA has failed to set standards to curb the billions of pounds of pollution power plants dump into our rivers, streams and lakes each year from coal ash and scrubber sludge wastewaters. Fortunately, in April 2013, as a result of federal court litigation filed by several conservation groups, the EPA proposed the first ever national standards to limit toxics dumped into waterways from coal plants.

The groups also reviewed a red-line copy of the EPA’s proposed coal plant water pollution standards that were sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before the standards were released. The red-line copy shows that OMB caved to industry pressure and took the highly unusual and improper step of writing new, weaker options into the draft rule prepared by the EPA’s expert staff.

The groups will outline the findings of the new report at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 23, 2013 during a live, phone-based news conference with full Q&A.   News event speakers will be:

  • Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.;
  • Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer;
  • Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt;
  • Earthjustice’s Climate & Energy Vice President Abigail Dillen; and
  • Clean Water Action President and CEO Robert Wendelgass.

For the press release, please click here.

For the report, please click here.

For the link to the red-line of the proposed rule, click here.

To download the EPA proposed rule published in the Federal Register, click here.

To listen to the phone-based news conference, click here.