As scrubbers become common, coal air pollution is flushed into rivers. Coal plants in the U.S. are finally installing particulate matter scrubbers to reduce air pollution. But now the solid distillate of the air waste is flushed into rivers.
Plant managers at Hatfield’s Ferry in southwestern Pennsylvania say they have installed equipment to reduce toxic pollution from the coal scrubbers discharged into the Monongahela River. EPA estimates 50% of all U.S. coal plants now have scrubbers on them.
There are no Federal rules on coal plant air scrubber toxic release into rivers, landfills and ground water. Toxic chemicals like arsenic and lead are unregulated. Enforcement of outdated Clean Water Act standards is alarmingly lax. 90% of 313 coal power plants broke the Clean Water Act law since 2004. Those fined paid very little in penalties. Hatfield’s Ferry broke the Clean Water Act 33 times since 2006. The plant owner only paid $26,000 in fines while at the same time the holding company earned $1.1 billion.
“We know that coal waste is so dangerous that we don’t want it in the air, and that’s why we’ve told power plants they have to install scrubbers,” says Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “So why are they dumping the same waste into peoples’ water?”
EPA said early in the Bush Administration it would issue new power plant waste rules. It said the same thing again when a Tennessee dam ruptured flowing 1.1 billion gallons of coal waste through houses and farms in 2008. But state regulators often fight Federal standards at the sway of utility lobbyists.
Hatfield’s Ferry is in a lawsuit filed against it by local residents. Plant managers say there is no problem since they put in a $25 million water treatment facility to take out the toxic particles and solids from the coal scrubber waste. The solids are buried in a plastic lined landfill. The managers say limits on arsenic, aluminum, barium, boron, cadmium, chromium, manganese and nickel are not needed since they are unlikely to harm the Monongahela River and exceed contamination levels.
“Allegheny has installed state of the art scrubbers, state of the art wastewater treatment and state of the art synthetic (landfill) liners,” the company wrote. “We operate to be in compliance with all environmental laws and will continue to do so.”
“It’s really important to set a precedent that tells power plants that they need to genuinely clean up pollution, rather than just shift it from air to water,” says Abigail Dillen, a lawyer with Earth Justice representing local environmental civic groups in petitioning the Pennsylvania Court to strengthen rules on Hatfield’s Ferry. Dillen is arguing for “zero discharge” rules, more expensive but capable of eliminating virtually all pollution. Pennsylvania regulators say they have good water pollution rules for Hatfield’s Ferry and landfills.
“We asked the plant for estimates on how much of various pollutants they are likely to emit, and based on those estimates, we set limits that are protective of the Monongahela,” says Ron Schwartz, a Pennsylvania regulator. “We have asked them to monitor some chemicals including arsenic, and if the levels are too high, we may intervene.”
These problems are not unique to Hatfield’s Ferry. 21 power plants in states like Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio have polluted rivers with arsenic levels 18 times higher than the Federal drinking water standard according the New York Times review of EPA data. In Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere power plants have polluted rivers with other chemicals at unhealthy levels. None of these plants have ever had penalties. Their Pollution Discharge permits were not adjusted to prevent future pollution.
Lobbyists long held sway stopping EPA from issuing new environmental rules under the Bush Administration. All this is changing under Obama as he enforces existing environmental laws and prepares toughened, new rules.
For more original content from Jon Anderson go to AirQualityTrends.com