Essential Pittsburgh
5:45 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

Clean Water Groups Advocate for Stronger EPA Coal Plant Regulations

A barge pulls coal along the Monongahela River.
A barge pulls coal along the Monongahela River.
Credit Joseph A / flickr

According to a new report from a coalition of environmental and clean water groups, including the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action, at least 20 of 28 coal fired power plants in Pennsylvania discharge toxic coal ash or wastewater. These plants have no limits on the amount of toxic metals they are allowed to dump in public waters. Kim Teplitzky of the Sierra Club is one of the many concerned citizens calling for more stringent regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.

The numbers released by the EPA are disconcerting to environmentalists.  More that half of the toxins in public waterways comes from coal plants.  These toxins can include arsenic, lead, mercury and other strong pollutants that can harm people physically and mentally.

Teplitzky explained that the conversation between the EPA and the groups issuing the report is mainly in a public comment period right now.

“It’s up to us as the public to let the EPA know that we want the strongest possible standards to eliminate toxins from public water.” 

Because Pennsylvania coal plants are not required to monitor or report the amounts of chemicals deposited into the water, environmental groups must rely on understanding the process that occurs in a coal plant and determining estimates based on the inevitable amounts of waste.  This waste currently affects the three rivers that flow through Pittsburgh.

“It’s sad because these rivers are really our treasure…. having these new safeguards are going to clean up all of these sites,” noted Teplitzky, adding that coal lobbies have been the primary purpose for the delay in protecting the rivers.

Nationally, four out of five coal plants have no limits.  Teplitzky explained that 40% of coal plants are near a public drinking intake and 85% are near a public well. The environmental groups hope to remedy the upsetting statistics by contacting the EPA and requesting the strongest possible standards.