New EPA Rules Will Allow More Coal Plants to Contaminate Fresh Water Supplies

By Ayana Byrd Nov 05, 2019

In another effort to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations, the Trump administration is planning to weaken a rule that limits the toxic pollution from coal-burning power plants that contaminate fresh water.

On Monday (November 4), Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced a relaxation of a 2015 rule that required coal plants to install technology that would better protect water supplies from arsenic, lead, selenium and other toxins. Obama’s rule was directed at stopping an estimated 1.4 billion pounds of toxic metals and other pollutants from contaminating rivers and streams. 

The amended rule will, reports The New York Times,“lower pollution limits, extend the deadline for power plants to comply with new technologies until Dec. 31, 2028, and exempt many coal plants altogether.”

Wheeler also proposed a second rule amendment yesterday. It delays the cleanup of hundreds of leaking, toxic coal ash ponds. 

Both rules are supported by the coal industry—and condemned by environmental groups that believe they will lead to increased water contamination. “It is outrageous that Trump’s team is so beholden to polluters that they are willing to let power plants continue to dump lead, mercury, chromium and other dangerous chemicals into our water supply to preserve every last cent of their profits,” Thom Cmar, deputy managing attorney of the Earthjustice Coal Program, said in a statement.

Reports The Times:


Environmental groups said the proposal will be particularly harmful to poor communities. Mustafa Santiago Ali, who was the director of the E.P.A.’s office of environmental justice under the Obama administration, noted that Americans living within three miles of a coal fired power plant are disproportionately people of color and lower income levels.

A 2013 Earthjustice report found that coal plants are the largest source of toxic water pollution in the United States. Last year, a report from the Environmental Integrity Project stated that over 90 percent of sites that store coal ash are leaking levels of contamination exceeding EPA health standards, according to NPR.

“The rule announced today puts millions of people’s drinking water in jeopardy,” Ali reportedly said. “When tragedy strikes from a flood, hurricane or a breach from an unlined coal ash pit or pond, everyday citizens are left with contaminated water.”