Majority Of Coal-fired Power Plants Guilty Of Poisoning Groundwater

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There are 265 power plants monitoring groundwater in the United States.

242 of them report unsafe levels of pollutants from coal ash waste disposal.

According to an analysis from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), nine out of every 10 coal plants, three-quarters of all U.S. facilities with reportable data, claim groundwater is poisoned with at least one coal ash pollutant; a majority report dangerous levels of at least four separate contaminants.

Plants produce about 100 million tons of coal ash annually.

At least two billion tons are stored in aging pits without protective lining designed to prevent seepage.

EIP attorney, Abel Russ, explained:

“The pollution is basically everywhere you look. The major concern is that this could be a problem for decades or centuries because once the pollutants leach from the coal ash into the water, they are hard to get out.”

After a dike ruptured and spilled ash in 2008 at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee, leading to several hundred deaths and illnesses, the Obama administration instituted the Coal Ash Rule in 2015, tightening coal ash disposal regulations.

This required power companies to monitor groundwater from ash dump-adjacent wells and publicize their data.

Since May 2018, public data from over 550 coal ash ponds have been released.

That trend is coming to an end, however.

This is the Trump era, and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator.

About Wheeler, Abel Russ said:

“We’ve never really been happy with the EPA’s approach to this but now it is run by a coal lobbyist we are even more skeptical. Over the long term it’s going to become clear the EPA needs to be stronger and do something, but that probably won’t happen under this administration.”

In July, the EPA extended to 18 months the time coal plants can use unlined coal ash pits for dumping, claiming it would “provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash.”

The toxins currently present in the water include cadmium, cobalt, chromium, lead, arsenic, and lithium, contributing to such health problems as myriad forms of cancers, kidney damage, and developmental disorders.

Lisa Evans, senior counsel at Earthjustice, which contributed to the EIP report, said:

“Using industry’s own data, our report proves that coal plants are poisoning groundwater nearly everywhere they operate. The Trump administration insists on hurting communities across the US by gutting federal protections. They are making a dire situation much worse.”

According to the report, the worst contaminated sites reside in North Carolina, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Maryland, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

The worst contamination exists next to the San Miguel power plant outside San Antonio, Texas.

In February 2017, one month into Trump’s administration, Congress passed a joint resolution blocking the Obama administration’s “Stream Protection Rule” coal mining regulation, which had been set to take effect January 19, 2017–the last day of Obama’s presidency.

Coal regulations are not the only ones on the chopping block.

Last year, EPA regulators announced they would no longer rigidly enforce emissions standards for cars and trucks, arguing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan timeline is not appropriate and standards are “too high.”

According to documents the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) obtained, information about climate change previously published on the EPA agency’s site has been replaced with sites promoting Donald Trump’s fossil fuel agenda.

Gone also are pages about President Obama’s Clean Power Plan as well as references to climate change, and climate science.

In October 2017, the EPA issued a four-year “strategy” document that conveniently omits the word “climate.”

Former EPA head, Scott Pruitt, also threatened to “purge” scientists who refuse to kowtow to the fossil fuel industry, and favored oil and gas industry representatives’ views over environmental groups’.

To quote the Who song “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Hopefully, come 2020, we won’t get fooled again.

Image credit: Pixabay

Ted Millar is poet and teacher. His poetry has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News and Liberal Nation Rising.