TUCSON (CN) — A Trump administration delay in Obama-era rules governing release of toxic pollutants into water violates the Endangered Species Act and puts people, plants and animals at risk, the Center for Biological Diversity said Tuesday in federal court.
The Environmental Protection Agency delay in Clean Water Act rules, ordered by Trump-appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, means that steam-powered electric generating plants, many of them fired by pollutant-heavy coal, can keep releasing toxins at current levels for two more years.
Pruitt delayed compliance with the 2015 rule changes, the first since 1982, pending an EPA reconsideration, and the delay will affect numerous endangered species.
That requires EPA consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, and those consultations have not happened, the center says.
“In its push to prop up unsustainable dirty coal plants, the Trump EPA is sentencing millions of Americans to poorer health and postponing the cleanup of thousands of river miles,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the center. “The delay deepens these toxins’ threats to hundreds of endangered and threatened aquatic species like the shortnose sturgeon and hellbender salamander.”
In the lead-up to the 2015 rule changes, the EPA estimated that steam power plants, many of them coal-fired, produce half to 60 percent of the toxic industrial effluent discharged into U.S. surface waters. The new rules would reduce copper, lead, mercury, nickel, thallium, and zinc emissions by 95 percent, and arsenic and cadmium by 90 percent, according to the complaint.
Much of that pollution — 1.4 billion pounds annually — is captured from air filtered at coal-burning plants, the EPA found.
The EPA’s own environmental assessment for the 2015 rules acknowledges that such pollutants have numerous acute and chronic effects on aquatic plants and animals, including malformation, hormonal and behavioral disorders, the complaint states.
The EPA assessment identified 138 endangered species affected by surface waters polluted beyond federal safety standards.
Coal-fired electric generating plants account for more pollution that the next two sources combined — petroleum refining plants and paper mills, the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement.
The Clean Water Act gives power plants three years to comply with rule changes, such as the ones released in 2015. Pruitt’s delay means the plants will not have to comply until 2020.
The center asks the court to vacate the rule delay and order the required consultations.
It is represented by in-house attorney Robert Ukeiley, in Denver.