EPA Taking Heat Over Toxic Emissions from America’s Coal Plants


America runs on coal. It creates half of our electricity. And the unclean technology producing this source may be killing our children, grandchildren and the future unborn, not to mention our natural environment.

Is the fed sensing the urgency to limit the damage from this source we depend upon?

Not according to three environmental groups looking for clean coal technology. They are planning to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for being blatantly lax in limiting toxic discharges from power plants that threaten the health of local communities exposed daily to the pollutants.

According to Planet Shifter, the federal government is 26 years behind setting restrictions on the discharges which contaminate ground and surface waters and threaten aquatic life. Apparently, the EPA should have limited coal ash discharges to meet its own requirements for annual environmental reviews.

Back in December when a coal ash spill occurred at the Tennessee Kingston Fossil Plant, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson promised to issue regulations by the end of the year for nearly 600 coal plants with on-site coal ash storage ponds or landfills.


But the three groups planning to sue: the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project argue “the EPA need to stop kicking the can down the road and set a date for the regulation.”

There is evidence that these coal plants discharge millions of pounds of toxic pollutants every year. According to the report, in  Kingston, alone, more than 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled from a coal-ash holding pond last December when a earthen wall ruptured. The ash contains elevated levels of arsenic, selenium and lead, among other toxic substances.

In a 60 Minutes investigation on harmful waste by-products from coal, it was revealed that the tremendous amount we burn for electricity every year generates 130 million tons of waste. They even interviewed coal barons who have become rich off coal, who admitted being responsible for those smoke stacks that pump out 100-million tons of carbon dioxide every year.

Most of the waste emitted from power stations  is coal ash which is dangerous to humans and other living things. Environmental scientists tell us that the concentrations of mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxic metals are considerably higher in coal ash than in ordinary soil.

When properly disposed of  in dry, lined impoundments, coal ash is considered to be safe. But observers say it is often dumped into wet ponds (nearly 500 of them in the U.S.)  and in those cases the ash could pose health risks to the nearby communities.

Images: Tennessee Valley Authority, Earth Observatory, NASA

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.