ROCKINGHAM COUNTY — Environmental watchdog organizations are asking a federal court to tighten a rule the Trump administration loosened that allows coal plants to dump higher amounts of toxic pollution into lakes and rivers, including the Dan.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing groups from communities near and downstream of coal plants in the Carolinas, has filed a challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to the administration's rewrite of the Effluent Limitation Guidelines, or ELG Rule, for power plants that relaxed restrictions.
Among the conservation groups represented by the SELC in the action are: Good Stewards of Rockingham County, Winyah Rivers Alliance, Appalachian Voices and the Stokes County Branch of the NAACP.
“Our rivers have seen too much pollution, so we're suing in order to save the Dan and all those
who live downstream from polluters locally and nationwide,'' Dan Riverkeeper Steven Pulliam of Stoneville said in a news release.
"The SELC filed suit on behalf of
Good Stewards of Rockingham and others to challenge and stop these disastrous rollbacks that
will inevitably harm our environmental and human health. Enough is enough.”
“This illegal rollback of clean water protections by the Trump administration allows dirty
coal-burning plants to dump more toxic substances into our rivers, lakes, and drinking water
reservoirs and exposes our communities to more cancer-causing pollution,” said Frank
Holleman, senior attorney at the Charlottesville, Va.-based Southern Environmental Law Center, in the release.
“The technology to
prevent and treat toxic water pollution from these plants is widely available. Instead of protecting
people, this administration made it easier for the most polluting and worst run coal-fired plants to
dump poisons into the waterways our communities depend upon.”
Coal-fired plants generate at least 30% of all toxic water pollution from all industries in America, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the SELC notes in the release. In the Southeast, the percentage is likely even higher because of the
prevalence of polluting coal-fired power plants. By rewriting this rule at industry’s request, the EPA
allows polluters to dump more arsenic, mercury, and selenium into lakes and rivers—even
though available technologies to control this pollution are working at coal-fired plants across the
South and the nation, conservationists and the SELC contend.
At Belews Creek and other plants in North Carolina, Duke Energy already installed the
technology needed to limit toxic wastewater pollution to the levels required by a 2015 EPA rule.
But the administration’s rewrite now lets them pollute more instead of less, environmentalists note.
EPA’s rollback also fails to take action against bromide pollution from power plants.
Communities in North Carolina, including those downstream of Duke Energy’s Belews Creek
facility, have experienced past spikes of cancer-causing byproducts in their treated drinking water because
of bromide pollution from upstream coal-fired power plants, according to the SELC release.