EPA Is Now Totally Cool With Allowing Toxic Coal Ash To Be Dumped In Waterways

In yet another assault on the public health and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Donald Trump is giving more gifts to the dying coal industry by weakening regulations designed to prevent toxic coal ash from ending up in the water supply.

Earlier this week, coal company Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy despite its CEO being a major Trump backer. The move came amid a growing rejection of coal in favor of renewables, which don’t poison our water and air.

But in an effort to prop up the failing 19th-century industry, Trump’s EPA is now gutting regulations that prevent toxic coal ash, which is a slurry of ash and heavy metals, from being dumped in our waterways.

According to the New York Times:

The move is part of a series of deregulatory efforts by the Trump administration aimed at extending the lives of old, coal-fired power plants that have been shutting down in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy generators. Coal ash, the residue produced from burning coal, was dumped for years in holding areas near power plants, largely without regulation, but it came to the public’s attention after spills in North Carolina and Tennessee sent mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals from the ash into water supplies.

Those same waterways are sources of food and drinking water, and that means people ingest this coal ash and develop serious health issues such as cancer and other problems. Millions of Americans live near waterways that are at risk of being polluted by the coal industry.

A recent study by environmental groups found that more than 90 percent of the 265 coal plants required to test their groundwater near coal ash dumps discovered unsafe levels of at least one contaminant. According to environmental groups that track the problem, power plants discharge more than 1 billion pounds of pollutants every year into 4,000 miles of rivers, contaminating the drinking water and fisheries of 2.7 million people.

“That knowledge should lead EPA to move to establish greater protections for our health,” Earthjustice general counsel Lisa Evans said. “But EPA is running the other way under the direction of the utilities.”

As usual, the coal industry is denying that they oppose safety and health regulations.

“We support reasonable regulations for coal ash and non-coal-ash byproducts that protect health and the environment,” American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity president Michelle Bloodworth said. “At the same time, it is important that regulations not cause unnecessary retirements or idling of coal-fired power plants because they are necessary to ensure that consumers have a reliable, resilient, and affordable electricity supply.”

First off, there is no such thing as “clean” coal. It simply does not exist. And renewable energy sources have the potential to produce even cheaper energy than coal all without poisoning our water and land.

But while the coal industry is being propped up in the short term by reversing these Obama-era regulations, it’s not going to last forever since renewables continue to take over the energy sector.

“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.

Kevin Book, managing director at research firm Clearview Energy Partners, agrees.

“You can’t stimulate demand for something that’s been shut down already,” he said.

It’s an absolute shame that the EPA is propping up a polluting industry rather than protect the environment from such polluters as it is supposed to do. It’s an example of how the fossil fuel industry is in control of the EPA, and it’s only going to get worse if the American people don’t do something to take it back.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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