July 25, 2013

New Report Shows At Least 16 Coal-fired Power Plants in Michigan Discharge Toxic Coal Ash or Wastewater

Report Highlights Critical Need for Strong Federal Standards




CONTACT: Alison Flowers, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, alison.flowers@sierraclub.org, 303-246-6297
Patrick Geans, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, patrick.geans@sierraclub.org


DETROIT, MICHIGAN -- Today, a coalition of environmental and clean water groups, including the Sierra Club, held a press conference and water sports demo at Belanger Park, River Rouge, Michigan, to demonstrate the importance of strong U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards that limit toxic water pollution from coal plants. This event coincided with the release of a new national report this week which shows at least 16 coal-fired power plants in Michigan discharge toxic coal ash or wastewater.


The report, “Closing the Floodgates: How the Coal Industry Is Poisoning Our Water and How We Can Stop It” reviewed water permits for 386 coal plants across the country, and sought to identify whether states have upheld the Clean Water Act by effectively protecting families from toxic water pollution.

The analysis found:

-Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways nationwide, at least 16 were in Michigan. Worse, only three of these plants even reports how much toxic arsenic and selenium they are discharging in the EPA’s Toxics Release inventory. Those three that do report alone discharged almost 6,000 pounds of arsenic and selenium in one year, according to the Inventory.

-Only eight of Michigan’s active coal plants have permits which limit dumping of any toxic metal, and none of the permits limit arsenic, cadmium, or lead. DTE’s River Rouge Plant, which the NAACP has identified as one of the worst environmental justice offenders in the nation lacks such limits.

-Ten plants are dumping their wastes into water bodies which have been formally designated as having impaired water quality, which includes mercury contamination and active coal power plants are among the largest sources of this toxic pollutant.

“This report makes it clear that DTE needs a lesson in common sense: dumping poisons into our water without disclosing threatens the health, drinking water and recreation opportunities in Detroit,” said Patrick Geans, Sierra Club Michigan Beyond Coal organizer. “Environmental Protection Agency limits on these toxics in our water will prevent children from getting sick, ensure our water is safe to drink and our fish safe to eat, and save lives.”

Existing guidelines written to limit toxics discharged from coal plants do not cover many of the worst pollutants such as those discharged in Michigan rivers and streams, and have not been updated in more than 30 years. In April 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first ever national standards for toxics dumped into waterways from coal plants.

The Sierra Club’s Michigan Beyond Coal campaign is organizing to support the strongest options for these “effluent limitation guidelines” that will limit the amount of toxic chemicals that are dumped into our waterways.  These standards will also require all coal plants to monitor and report the amount of toxics dumped into our water, giving us detailed information for the first time about the types and amounts of dangerous chemicals in our water.

The new report’s nationwide findings were similarly shocking:

●      Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways, nearly 70 percent (188) have no limits on the amounts of toxic metals like arsenic, boron, cadmium, mercury, and selenium they are allowed to dump into public waters.

●      Of these 274 coal plants, more than one-third (103) have no requirements to monitor or report discharges of toxic metals like arsenic, boron, cadmium, mercury, and selenium to federal authorities.

●      A total of 71 coal plants discharge toxic water pollution into waterways that have already been declared as impaired. Of these plants that are dumping toxic metals into impaired waterways, nearly three out of four coal plants (53) had no permit that limited the amount of toxic metals it could dump.

●      More than half of the 274 coal plants plants surveyed (144) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. 53 of these power plants are operating with permits that expired five or more years ago.

The new report also reviewed red-line copies of the EPA’s proposed coal plant water pollution standards or “effluent limitation guidelines” obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, finding that the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) caved to coal industry pressure and took the highly unusual and improper step of writing new weak options into the draft guidelines prepared by the EPA’s expert staff.