On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s EPA Administrator accepted polluter requests to attempt to halt crucial clean water protections that prevent coal plants from dumping large amounts of toxic industrial waste into America’s waterways, putting the health of communities who depend on those waterways at serious risk. Before these clean water protections were put in place during the Obama Administration, national standards against toxic dumping by coal plants were practically nonexistent and hadn’t been updated in 30 years.
The updated clean water protections – also known as the Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELG) – eliminated most of the dumping of ash-contaminated wastewater and required rigorous treatment for “scrubber sludge,” which contains toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury, pollutants linked to serious cognitive development issues in children who are exposed to them. These protections could reduce toxic pollution by 1.4 billion pounds a year and help address the underlying causes of the 250 reported instances of coal plants around the country contaminating ground and surface waters.
Trump’s effort to roll back these vital protections poses a significant threat to families that live near coal plants. The water toxics standard was finalized by EPA in 2015 and has been in effect since January 2016. But Trump’s EPA Administrator has now done an about-face and accepted petitions from polluting industries to reconsider the standard, and has halted upcoming compliance deadlines in the meantime. Nearly 40 percent of all coal plants discharge toxic pollution within five miles of a downstream community’s drinking water intake. Presently, coal plant wastewater has contaminated more than 23,000 miles of waterways, including nearly 400 water bodies used as drinking water sources.
In response, Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, released the following statement:
“Trump’s attempt to halt these clean water protections for mercury, lead, and arsenic from coal power plants is dangerous and irresponsible. After years of peer-reviewed studies, extensive input from medical experts and scientists, and thorough review of public comments, the EPA made the right call in finalizing strong clean water protections against coal plants dumping toxic heavy metals into our waterways. Despite all this, Trump’s EPA Administrator is trying to throw it all away to placate polluters who could care less about the health of our communities. Trump claimed he wanted EPA to go “back to basics” and focus on clean air and water in his Administration, but one of the first actions by his EPA Administrator is an attempt to gut an important water pollution safeguard. This is appalling.
“As a mother, I’m frankly horrified that the EPA would put the safety of drinking water at risk for millions of Americans, but that’s exactly what they’ve done. Coming from West Virginia, where we’ve had enormous challenges with maintaining clean water supplies due to the coal industry’s political influence, I’m outraged that these common sense protections are under attack from the EPA itself. Having clean, accessible water is a basic right for all families, and it’s EPA’s job to ensure our communities have the clean water we need to stay healthy and thrive. Trump’s decision to attack our right to clean water on behalf of coal executives is just another indication of who this Administration works for – and it isn’t American families, but polluters. The Sierra Club and our allies will fight this attempted rollback every step of the way.”
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