EPA to Curb Water Pollution from Coal Plants

Did you hear that?

That’s the sound of our nation’s aquatic species breathing a collective sigh of relief. (Click here to read our press release).

After nearly 30 years and lots of wrangling, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally agreed to update its effluent guidelines that set standards for wastewater released from coal-fired power plants. The current standards, established back in 1982, set no limits for toxic metals, which have been shown to cause developmental abnormalities and even death in myriad fish and amphibian species.

Bald eagles sit atop aquatic food chains that are being poisoned by toxic pollution from coal plants. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Deadly pollutants like arsenic, mercury and lead steadily accumulate up the food chain in plants, insects, fish, birds and even small mammals that make up riverine food chains. That means rockfish, osprey and red foxes were all at great risk from coal ash—the dirty byproduct of burning coal that sits in sludge ponds and leaks into our waterways.

EPA is issuing the new guidelines after environmental groups threatened legal action. Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club, with help from their attorneys at Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project, negotiated with EPA to issue new rules by July 2012 that, for the first time, will establish limits on the toxic metals released from coal plants. This action is a major step forward in protecting aquatic species and ensures that we have cleaner water for humans and wildlife long into the future.

Defenders attorney Adam Kron was instrumental in fighting for the tougher effluent standards and continues to hold EPA accountable for enforcing Clean Water Act protections.

“Coal ash polluters have gotten a free pass for too long. For decades, they have been allowed to dump heavy metals and other toxins into our rivers and creeks, poisoning native fish and the wildlife that rely on fish and other aquatic species as a food source. After almost thirty years, EPA has finally taken a decisive step toward protecting aquatic species, our local waters, and our way of life by more fully regulating coal ash pollutants and keeping them out of our waterways.”

EPA has finally taken a decisive step toward protecting aquatic species, our local waters, and our way of life by more fully regulating coal ash pollutants and keeping them out of our waterways.

Keep up the good work, Adam, and thanks for safeguarding aquatic ecosystems and the wildlife that depend on them. Read more about what Defenders is doing here.

John Motsinger

, Communications Associate

John Motsinger is a Communications Associate at Defenders of Wildlife. He handles press coverage for critters in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains as well as Defenders' national work on the Endangered Species Act.

2 Responses to “EPA to Curb Water Pollution from Coal Plants”

  1. Leanne

    This is a good article highlighting the need for new and
    improved coal ash regulation, though a bit more information and call to action are needed.

    Firstly, there are two rulings under consideration: Subtitle C, which would hold polluters responsible with federal guidelines and would classify coal ash as ‘special’ waste to consider in its disposal. The other, Subtitle D, is basically status quo and has loose regulations. This is an important distinction: Subtitle C is for CLEAN and Subtitle D
    is for DIRTY.

    Secondly, act! epa.coal.org is a great website where you can quickly and easily comment to the EPA and to the White House to advocate for Subtitle C! Comments close on Friday, Nov 19th.

    Let’s cooperate to protect our aquatic, air, and land-based communities.


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