Power Plants Continue to Pollute Our Water; EPA Must Act

Arsenic. Hexavalent chromium. Lead. Mercury. Do these sound like things you want in the glass of water you are about to drink? I'm guessing no, but power plants are discharging more than 5.5 billion pounds of these pollutants into our waterways every year.

A new report out today from Clean Water Action, the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Sierra Club details the extreme amount of pollution coal plants are releasing into our nation's waterways, and the urgent need for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enact strong clean water protections.

The report:

presents evidence that EPA has been under-estimating the public health benefits of controlling metals ... released by power plants into rivers, streams, and lakes.

While EPA has estimated that controlling these pollutants would provide $14 million to $20 million worth of health benefits per year, a more accurate assessment would likely far exceed $300 million annually...

According to the report, "power plant wastewater has contributed to over 3,000 miles of contaminated rivers, fish too polluted to eat in 185 bodies of water, and the degradation of 399 water bodies that are used as public drinking water sources."

The EPA is required to release new standards for toxic water pollution from coal plants in September, the result of decades of advocacy that Robert. F. Kennedy, Jr. and I chronicled in a column last year, and these protections can't come soon enough.

"Strong clean water laws are about a child's right to grow up healthy and holding polluters accountable for decades of toxic dumping," said Casey Roberts, an author of the report and staff attorney at the Sierra Club. "As things stand today, thousands of lives are unnecessarily put at risk due to outdated policies and irresponsible polluters."

My five-year-old daughter and I spend endless hours during the summer playing in the local streams and rivers near our home in West Virginia, and I want her and all kids to grow up in a world where the water is healthy to drink, and a safe place to swim and fish.

Polluters must be held accountable for their waste -- not allowed to use our streams and rivers as their garbage dumps. The EPA must enact strong clean water safeguards for power plants this September. It's critical for public health and the health of the places we love. and it's long overdue.