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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Environmentalists challenge EPA ‘loophole’ for coal power plants

The Center for Biological Diversity claims an exemption from stricter wastewater standards will harm dozens of threatened and endangered species.

(CN) — The Center for Biological Diversity challenged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new water pollution standards for coal-fired power plants that exempts plants that will stop burning coal by 2034 from the new, more stringent requirements.

The center on Thursday asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the EPA's recent rule, which the nonprofit organization claims violates both the U.S. Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.

“It’s unacceptable that the EPA is giving the coal industry a free pass to dump millions of pounds of toxic pollution into this nation’s rivers for another 10 years,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the center. “Worse yet, this handout to the industry will continue to harm hundreds of endangered aquatic species, as the EPA once again thumbs its nose at the Endangered Species Act.”

The agency declined to comment on pending litigation.

The EPA last month announced a suite of final rules to reduce pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants as part of the Biden administration's efforts to confront the climate crisis while at the same time providing what the agency called regulatory certainty as electricity providers makes long-term investments in the transition to a clean energy economy. 

Among the new rules is a requirement for coal-fired power plants to capture smokestack emissions or shut down.

The new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired electric plants are the Biden administration's most ambitious effort yet to roll back planet-warming pollution from the power sector, the nation’s second-largest contributor to climate change.

However, the new limits on wastewater discharges from coal plants, known as Effluent Limitation Guidelines, included what the Center for Biological Diversity called a loophole.

The final rule, according to the EPA, creates a new compliance path for plants that permanently stop burning coal by 2034. These units, the EPA said, will be able to continue meeting existing requirements instead of the requirements contained in the new regulation.

But coal-fired, steam electric power plants are the largest industrial source of toxic water pollution in the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity said Thursday, releasing heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium.

And wastewater discharges from these plants cause significant damage to aquatic ecosystems. Dozens of threatened and endangered wildlife species, the center said, including sturgeon, hellbender salamanders, sea turtles, fish and freshwater mussels will be harmed by these continued levels of pollution.

“At a time when we should be accelerating the transition to renewable energy, the EPA instead capitulated to the sky-is-falling rhetoric of the coal industry, which values profits over the health of millions of people,” Hartl said. “I hope that the court quickly throws out this terrible loophole and coal-fired power plants finally have their reckoning with the enormous damage their pollution has caused.”

At the same time, the coal industry has scoffed at the Biden administration's steps to steer the U.S. toward a cleaner energy future.

Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, said last month that through the latest rules, “the EPA is systematically dismantling the reliability of the U.S. electric grid.''

He accused Biden and EPA officials of “ignoring our energy reality and forcing the closure of well-operating coal plants that repeatedly come to the rescue during times of peak demand. The repercussions of this reckless plan will be felt across the country by all Americans.”

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Categories / Energy, Environment, National

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