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New Report Shows Nearly All Indiana Power Plants Discharge Toxic Coal Ash or Wastewater, Highlighting Critical Need for Strong Federal Standards

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Contact: 
Shane Levy - shane.levy@sierraclub.org, 415-977-5724

INDIANAPOLIS-- A coalition of environmental and clean water groups, including the Sierra Club, released a new report [LINK TO REPORT] today demonstrating the importance of strong U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards that limit toxic water pollution from coal plants for Indiana. 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 19 coal-fired power plants in Indiana, only three plants have permits that now limit dumping of any toxic metals such as arsenic, boron, cadmium, mercury, and selenium into public waters.

●      At least 16 power plants have discharges into waterways that are contaminated by metal-laden coal ash or dangerous smokestack scrubber sludge.

●      Only nine of 19 power plants in the state are required to report on how much arsenic and selenium they discharge into public waters. Those that do report these metals discharged more than 2,700 pounds of arsenic and selenium in one year.

●      More than half of the state’s power plants dump toxic waste into major waterways that have been formally designated as being impaired, including the Ohio, Wabash, and White Rivers.

●      All of the major water bodies impaired by toxic waste have been designated because of mercury contamination. Coal-fired power plants are among the largest sources of mercury, which builds up in fish tissue and poses special dangers to the brains and nervous system of infants and young children.

“This report makes it clear that Indiana electric utilities across the state need a lesson in common sense: dumping poisons into our water without disclosure threatens the health, drinking water and recreation opportunities for Hoosier families from all corners of our state,” said Jodi Perras, Indiana Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Putting limits on dumping these toxins into our water will protect children’s ability to learn, ensure our water is safe to drink and our fish safe to eat, and, over time, reduce the cost of providing special education by preventing mercury contamination.”

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

The Sierra Club’s Indiana 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.

“Limiting the amount of toxics in our water through commonsense standards will give our children a good start in life, protect our health, and ensure our water is safe to drink and our fish safe to eat,” said Perras.

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 (102) 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 (59) had no permit that limited the amount of toxic metals they could dump.

●      More than half of the coal plants plants surveyed (187) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. Fifty-three 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.

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