Donald Trump's plan to allow coal plants to poison rivers faces legal challenge

'We will not stand idly by as Trump’s Administration tries to steer America back to an era where rivers caught on fire and polluters dumped their waste into our waterways with impunity'

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The Independent US

The US Environmental Protection Agency is being sued after indefinitely suspending rules that prevent arsenic, lead and other toxic waste from being dumped into America’s rivers.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and Clean Water Action, filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in Washington DC, arguing the EPA’s action was “arbitrary and capricious” as well as illegal.

Last month Scott Pruitt, a climate science-denying lawyer who repeatedly sued the EPA before being appointed by Donald Trump to run it, issued an “indefinite stay” on water pollution regulations introduced in 2015.

These required coal power stations to cut the amount of toxic waste they pump from their plants into rivers and other waterways used for drinking water.

In the lawsuit, the environment groups said: “Power plants are by far the largest source of toxic water pollution in the United States. 

“When finalising the Effluent Limitation Guidelines … in 2015, EPA found that power plants generate more toxic wastewater than the next two-largest polluting industries combined.

“Power plant wastewater contains toxic metals such as mercury, arsenic, and selenium, as well as non-conventional pollutants such as nitrogen and dissolved solids that contaminate drinking water and harm ecosystems.”

It quoted research which found such pollutants could cause “severe health and environmental problems in the form of cancer and non-cancer risks in humans, lowered IQ among children, and deformities and reproductive harm in fish and wildlife”.

Pollution from power plants was found to make the water in more than 4,000 miles of rivers unsafe to drink; a further 6,000 miles of rivers were deemed unsafe for children to go fishing on.

The lawsuit quoted the EPA itself in explaining why the new restrictions, which companies would have been required to adhere to by 2023 at the latest, were required. 

“EPA estimates that roughly 30 million people are exposed to fish contaminated by power plant wastewater, including over three million young children exposed to lead and over 400,000 infants exposed to mercury in utero,” it added.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said the legal action was a “firm declaration that we will not stand idly by as Trump’s Administration tries to steer America back to an era where rivers caught on fire and polluters dumped their waste into our waterways with impunity”. 

“With the drinking water of millions of Americans at stake, we will fight tooth-and-nail to protect safeguards that restrict coal plants from dumping toxic heavy metals into our drinking water supplies and putting thousands of families at risk of poisoning each year,” she said.

“Though these irrational attacks against basic science and public health are horrifying, we are confident that common sense will win the day and the American people will prevail over polluter greed in the courts and in the streets.”

The lawsuit urged the court to issue an order overturning the indefinite stay and compel the EPA to reinstate all the Effluent Limitation Guidelines.

Pete Harrison, an attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, said: “These standards would have tackled the biggest source of toxic water pollution in the country, and now the Trump EPA is trying to toss them out. It’s indefensible.

“The EPA didn’t even pretend to seek public input before ploughing ahead with this rollback that could allow millions of pounds of preventable toxic pollution to go into our water.”