New Report on Coal Plant’s Toxic Wastewater

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : July 30, 2013

Contact:

Alison Flowers, Sierra Club, alison.flowers@sierraclub.org, 303-246-6297

Jessica Tritsch, Sierra Club, jessica.tritsch@sierraclub.org, 612-259-2449

 

New Report Shows At Least Four Coal-fired Power Plants in Minnesota Discharge Toxic Wastewater, Highlighting Critical Need for Strong Federal Standards

Duluth, MN — Today, a coalition of environmental and clean water groups, including the Sierra Club, held events statewide demonstrating the importance of strong U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards that limit toxic water pollution from coal plants for Minnesota. The events coincide with a newly released national report, “Closing the Floodgates: How the Coal Industry Is Poisoning Our Water and How We Can Stop It” which reviewed water permits for 386 coal plants across the country and sought to identify whether states have upheld the Clean Water Act by effectively protecting families from toxic water pollution.

The analysis found:

●   Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways nationwide, at least four were in Minnesota. Only two in Minnesota have any toxic metal permit limits, and that is for mercury alone despite the slurry of toxic metals like arsenic, boron, cadmium, and selenium they are allowed to dump into public waters.

●   None of Minnesota’s active coal plants have requirements to monitor or report discharges of toxic metals to federal authorities. 

●   Impaired waterways like Blackwater Lake are being polluted by Minnesota Power’s Clay Boswell Plant, that have no permit limiting the amount of toxic metals it dumps.

“In Minnesota, we pride ourselves on clean water, the Mississippi River, Lake Superior and our 10,000 lakes. This report highlights how little disclosure there is on what poisons coal plants are dumping into our water.” said Jessica Tritsch, organizer for the Sierra Club’s Minnesota Beyond Coal Campaign. “Environmental Protection Agency limits on these toxics in our water will prevent our community from getting sick, ensure our water is safe to drink and our fish safe to eat, and save lives.”

Existing guidelines written to limit toxics discharged from coal plants do not cover many of the worst pollutants, and have not been updated in more than 30 years. In April 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first ever national standards for toxics dumped into waterways from coal plants.

The Sierra Club’s Minnesota Beyond Coal campaign is organizing to support the strongest options for these “effluent limitation guidelines” that will limit the amount of toxic chemicals that are dumped into our waterways.  These standards will also require all coal plants to monitor and report the amount of toxics dumped into our water, giving us detailed information for the first time about the types and amounts of dangerous chemicals in our water.

“Limiting the amount of toxics in our water through commonsense standards will save lives, protect our health, and ensure our water is safe to drink and our fish safe to eat,” said Alexis Boxer, organizer for the Sierra Club’s Minnesota Beyond Coal Campaign.

In Duluth, coalition members spoke out in support of tightened water pollution standards at Lafayette Park Beach.

“Here is Duluth, with Lake Superior on our doorstep,” said Julie O’Leary, Duluth Natural Resources Committee Chair for the League of Women Voters. “We understand the critical importance of clean water to our health and our economy. We must make every effort to keep toxic pollutants like mercury and lead out of our lakes, rivers and streams because once there, these chemicals don’t ever go away.”

 
Meanwhile, the new report’s nationwide findings revealed:

 ●   Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways, nearly 70 percent (188) have no limits on the amounts of toxic metals like arsenic, boron, cadmium, mercury, and selenium they are allowed to dump into public waters.

●   Of these 274 coal plants, more than one-third (103) have no requirements to monitor or report discharges of toxic metals like arsenic, boron, cadmium, mercury, and selenium to federal authorities.

●   A total of 71 coal plants discharge toxic water pollution into waterways that have already been declared as impaired. Of these plants that are dumping toxic metals into impaired waterways, nearly three out of four coal plants (53) had no permit that limited the amount of toxic metals it could dump.

●   More than half of the 274 coal plants plants surveyed (144) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. 53 of these power plants are operating with permits that expired five or more years ago.

 The new report also reviewed red-line copies of the EPA’s proposed coal plant water pollution standards or “effluent limitation guidelines” obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, finding that the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) caved to coal industry pressure and took the highly unusual and improper step of writing new weak options into the draft guidelines prepared by the EPA’s expert staff.

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