No More Free Pass to Pollute: The Environmental Protection Agency Protects Drinking Water & Communities from Toxic Power Plants

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first-ever national pollution limits to control the amount of heavy metals, nutrients and other pollutants steam electric power plants can discharge into our nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and bays.  Existing Clean Water Act standards for power plants were last updated in 1982 and did not require these facilities to remove toxic metals and other pollutants of concern from wastewater discharges.  These new pollution controls are necessary because power plant wastewater discharges have contaminated more than 23,000 miles of rivers and streams with dangerous pollutants and exposure to these pollutants threatens public health. These landmark limits will prevent 1.4 billion pounds of toxic pollutants from being discharged into U.S. water resources every year, including drinking water sources.

In response to EPA’s action, Clean Water Action Water Programs Director Jennifer Peters released the following statement:

“We applaud the Administration for taking significant steps toward ending the power plant industry’s unlimited free pass to put downstream communities at risk and pollute our nation’s water resources with arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and other harmful chemicals.  For too long, power plants have dumped billions of pounds of dangerous chemicals directly into our rivers, lakes, streams and bays every year.  This reckless practice has led to the damage of thousands of miles of streams across the country, made it unsafe to eat fish in many lakes and rivers, and contaminated numerous drinking water sources. Under this new rule, power plants will finally have to clean up their act. The industry will no longer be allowed to discharge toxic pollutants in fly ash and bottom ash wastewater and will be required to upgrade to existing, affordable technologies that remove most heavy metals and toxic chemicals from scrubber sludge. 

Clean Water Action has urged EPA to require controls on bromide, without which drinking water systems and their consumers will continue to bear the burden of cleaning up this harmful pollutant. Bromide is common in scrubber sludge from power plant air pollution control devices; during the water treatment process chemical reactions can form “disinfection byproducts” known to cause cancer.  While EPA did not require bromide controls at existing power plants, it has included provisions that will begin to address bromide’s threats to downstream drinking water sources. These include notification of discharges to downstream drinking water systems.

Today's announcement is a huge step forward for our water. Polluters lobbied hard for the weakest possible controls which would have allowed the power plant industry to continue to dump billions of pounds of pollution into our nation’s water resources  every year.  EPA should especially be commended for standing firm against polluter lobbyists while listening to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who implored the agency to protect our communities and drinking water sources. "


Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table.


Michael Kely