Fight reductions in clean water protections – mobile gas jockey

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is handing out another favor to the corporate polluters who’ve been giving him sweetheart deals and marching orders since he took over the EPA. This time it’s his proposal to weaken already modest clean water protections against toxic coal ash pollution–an action that will put the health of Arkansas communities who rely on water sources near coal ash waste sites at risk.

Coal ash is the primary solid waste product of coal-burning power plants. It contains some of the most dangerous toxic chemicals on earth, like arsenic, lead, mercury, and chromium. The toxins raise the risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke, and can inflict permanent brain damage on children. It’s estimated that 1.5 million children live near coal ash storage sites, which are only getting larger with each ton of coal burned.

In places like Harriman, Tenn., and Eden, N.C., we’ve seen the tragedies that coal ash spills and leaks can cause by devastating communities, contaminating water, and sending people to the hospital. Both of these areas suffered unspeakable devastation when coal ash retention systems broke open and dumped millions of tons of coal ash into neighborhoods and waterways. Harriman and Eden were suddenly faced with rivers of arsenic, lead, iron, manganese, and other deadly pollutants–and mountains of cleanup costs.

Groundwater levels of arsenic and lead are nearly three times the safe drinking water level standard, and lithium levels are nearly twice the standard. Recently released data on Entergy’s White Bluff and Independence coal-burning plants similarly shows potentially serious groundwater pollution. Entergy’s data indicates statistically significant increases of indicator pollutants such as boron and chloride in groundwater passing beneath its ash pits.

According to the utilities’ own data, toxic coal ash is putting our Arkansas water at risk. The rivers and streams that are polluted by these coal-burning plants–the Arkansas River, White River, and Flint Creek–are critically important to the health and economic well-being of Arkansans.

Despite the mountain of evidence showing that coal ash is a serious threat to surrounding communities and their water, however, Pruitt is proposing to strip away even the most modest safeguards that could help protect some of the most vulnerable people from spills and leaks.

In 2015, after years of scientific research and public comments, the EPA finalized a set of basic clean water protections from coal ash that were cheap and easy for utilities to implement. These standards required coal-plant owners to do things like line new coal ash dump sites with strong waterproof materials to make sure the dangerous contents of coal ash did not leach into soil and contaminate groundwater.

They also provided local communities with online tools to monitor their groundwater to make sure that toxic heavy metals from nearby coal ash waste sites were not contaminating the water they used for farming, drinking, and cooking. The communities that have seen their water contaminated or threatened by coal ash welcomed these new protections, but now Trump and Pruitt are heartlessly turning the clock back.

Pruitt has proposed tearing up the 2015 protections and allowing utilities to influence state regulators to impose a weak patchwork of rules that will put at risk thousands of communities’ water sources. In fact, in a cruel irony, Pruitt announced these rollbacks the day after EPA reporting under the new standard revealed dangerous coal ash pollution in more than 70 sites around the country.

Everyone deserves clean water free from toxic coal ash, and the profits of utility executives should never be held in higher regard than the health of local communities. With his proposal, Scott Pruitt has once again made it clear who he’s working for, and it’s not families whose lives are threatened by pollution. After nearly a year in his position, Pruitt has seemed more concerned with pushing the agenda of wealthy coal executives rather than doing his job to protect the environment and the health of the people who are suffering from the pollution created by coal plants.

Nothing better illustrates this than the sweetheart deal Pruitt received from the wife of a dirty energy lobbyist who had business before the EPA. For a mere $50 a night, he stayed in a plush multimillion-dollar condo near the United States Capitol. By day, Pruitt was touting his rollback efforts to make it easier for energy companies and utilities to save money by polluting, and by night, he slept peacefully in a bed owned by someone who energy companies and utilities hire to do their bidding on Capitol Hill.

As each day goes by and we find out more about Pruitt’s conflicts of interests and revelations about his failed judgment, however, it’s important to remember that his failures have real world impacts on the health of people he is supposed to be protecting. Real Arkansas families will be hurt because of his decision to roll back the clean water protections against coal ash; people who can’t offer him sweetheart deals on luxury housing.

These people need action more than polluters need fatter pockets. Pruitt needs to listen to their comments against weakening the their water protections and, for once, choose people over polluters. For them, it really is a matter of life and death.