Coal ash and coal slurry, often injected into the ground where they might contaminate drinking water supplies, have escaped the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency for 26 years, according to three environmental groups who have warned the agency to expect a lawsuit if nothing is done. (The groups are the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Integrity Project.)
Update: Tuesday, the EPA announced it would crack down on these pollution sources, two days after the Times story and one day after the groups threatened a lawsuit.
Coal-fired power plants produce wastes, including coal ash like that that spilled in a spectacular disaster in Kingston, Tenn. last year, and those wastes can contaminate drinking water supplies, causing serious health problems, as illustrated by a new investigative report in the New York Times this weekend.
The EPA has not adhered to a Clean Water Act regulation that requires it to review power plant discharges annually, the groups say; instead, the EPA has studied the issue for 15 years without proposing any regulations on the discharges -- even though some companies have admitted to exceeding toxic waste disposal guidelines in reports to state and federal regulators, as the Times showed. Meanwhile, the groups say, the EPA's own studies show that existing technology could reduce harmful pollution completely.
In other coal-related news:
Friday, in a move heralded by environmentalists, the Obama Administration refused to grant permits for 79 new mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia -- sparing, at least for the time being, thousands of acres of forests and hundreds of miles of mountain streams. The Sierra Club is among those who state plainly that mountaintop removal mining -- which involves blasting the tops of mountains with gigantic machinery and dumping the debris into stream valleys to expose veins of coal -- violates the Clean Water Act by obliterating mountain streams.
But Friday also brought with it news of a different sort out of the Obama Administration on mountaintop removal mining. Some environmentalists are opposing the Obama Administration's nomination of Joseph Pizarchik as director of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement because he "consistently made decisions that benefited the industry at the expense of the environment and communities living in mining areas," according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Among the nomination's demerits, according to the group: Pizarchik advocated for "unsafe" disposal of coal ash and disregarded evidence about the toxicity of coal ash pollution; and he supported lax mountaintop removal practices that eased the filling of mountain streams with mining waste. The group also opposes the re-appointment of a Bush Administration appointee, Glenda Owens, in the role of deputy director at the Office of Surface Mining, because of her past support of mountaintop removal mining.
"Given the environmental crisis our country faces, we cant afford to have someone in this position with a record of consistently downplaying the devastating effects of coal mining and coal ash on the environment," said Tierra Curry, biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
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