News | November 2, 2020

Filed: Challenge to Trump administration rule allowing more toxic wastewater from coal plants

Representing groups from communities near and downstream of coal plants in the Carolinas, the Southern Environmental Law Center today challenged the Trump administration’s rewrite of a rule—known as the Effluent Limitation Guidelines, or ELG, Rule for power plants—that allows coal plants to dump more toxic pollution into rivers and lakes.

“This illegal rollback of clean water protections by the Trump administration allows dirty coal-burning plants to dump more toxic substances into our rivers, lakes, and drinking water reservoirs and exposes our communities to more cancer-causing pollution,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “The technology to prevent and treat toxic water pollution from these plants is widely available. Instead of protecting people, this administration made it easier for the most polluting and worst run coal-fired plants to dump poisons into the waterways our communities depend upon.”

At least 30 percent of all toxic water pollution from all industries in America comes from coal-fired plants, according to EPA. In the Southeast, the percentage is likely even higher because of the prevalence of polluting coal-fired power plants. By rewriting this rule at industry’s request, EPA allows polluters to dump more arsenic, mercury, and selenium into our lakes and rivers—even though available technologies to control this pollution are working at coal-fired plants across the South and the nation.

At Belews Creek and other plants in North Carolina, Duke Energy already installed the technology needed to limit toxic wastewater pollution to the levels required by a 2015 EPA rule. But the administration’s rewrite now lets them pollute more instead of polluting less.

EPA’s rollback also fails to take action against bromide pollution from power plants. Communities in North Carolina, including those downstream of Duke Energy’s Belews Creek facility, experienced spikes of cancer-causing byproducts in their treated drinking water because of bromide pollution from upstream coal-fired power plants.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of the Stokes County Branch of the NAACP, Winyah Rivers Alliance, Appalachian Voices, and Good Stewards of Rockingham.

In South Carolina, Santee Cooper’s Winyah Plant, which is set to decommission all its coal-fired units by 2027, may not even be required to implement pollution controls or meet even the new rule’s weakened limits under a special carveout in the new rule.

“Seven more years of dumping toxic pollutants into our local waterways is unacceptable to us and our communities,” said Christine Ellis with Winyah Rivers Alliance.