Administration tells power plants they can keep polluting water

Trump administration officials recently stalled key federal rules that keep toxics from coal-fired power plants out of rivers, streams, and drinking water sources. (© Getty)

Along Tennessee’s scenic Cumberland River, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Cumberland Fossil Plant dumps more mercury pollution into our waters than any other coal-fired power plant in the country. While Cumberland is one of the worst offenders, the South is dotted with power plants releasing toxic chemicals like selenium and arsenic into the rivers and lakes across the region.

Under a rule finalized in 2015, Cumberland—and every other coal-fired power plant in the country—was given three years to demonstrate they are using the most up-to-date technology to remove these toxic metals from wastewater they dump into rivers, lakes, and drinking water sources.

But even this low bar was set too high for the Trump administration. Recently Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced that the agency is postponing the rule.

“There is no reason to rethink the common sense conclusion that our drinking water supplies and rivers need to be protected from dangerous coal ash pollution,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “By stopping these important protections, the Environmental Protection Agency and the administration are turning their backs on families and communities across the Southeast, and the country, who are counting on their government to protect their drinking water and their health.”

Power plants are known to be the largest industrial source of toxic wastewater pollution and a significant portion of that pollution occurs less than five miles upstream of a drinking water intake. The toxics generated by burning coal to produce energy are known to cause an array of health problems, including developmental delays in children.

With the 2015 update to the Effluent Limitation Guideline rules now postponed, the industry may continue to rely on previous standards, which were woefully inadequate and already decades overdue for an update.

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