Trump administration guts water pollution controls for coal plants, putting industry profits before public health

Monday, November 4, 2019
Toxic Power Plant near a fishing spot - Photo courtesy Pete Harrsion, Waterkeeper Alliance

Washington, D.C. – Today the Trump administration continued its assault on the Clean Water Act and signed a proposal to weaken effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs) for the power plant industry. Coal-fired power plants are the nation’s largest toxic water polluters, contributing more than 30% of pollution dumped into surface waters from industries regulated by the Clean Water Act. Wastewater from coal-fired power plants contains dozens of toxic metals, including arsenic, mercury, selenium, and lead, as well as nutrients and other harmful chemicals.

This pollution has contaminated drinking water sources and made it unsafe to eat fish from many of the nation’s rivers and lakes. In 2015 the Obama administration established the first-ever national pollution limits on toxic pollutants from power plants to prevent more than 1.4  billion pounds of pollutants from being dumped into surface waters every year. The proposal signed today by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler eliminates the zero discharge standard for bottom ash wastewater and weakens the pollution limits for wet scrubber systems (FGD wastewater) required by the 2015 rule. Wheeler is also proposing to carve out additional exemptions for power plants that will retire by 2028. 

Clean Water Action’s National Water Programs Director, Jennifer Peters, released the following statement:

“This proposal is a desperate attempt by former coal lobbyist and current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to prop-up an outdated, dying industry that has been poisoning communities with its toxic pollution for decades. 

Coal-fired power plants have ruined thousands of miles of streams and polluted the drinking water sources for millions, imposing the costs of its pollution onto the communities who can least afford it. The 2015 pollution standards for coal plants would have eliminated billions of pounds of toxic pollution every year while holding the industry accountable for most of its waste. 

Not only does Wheeler’s proposal eliminate some of the strongest pollution limits required by the 2015 rule, it carves out new polluter loopholes for the industry. Wheeler’s proposal also claims that power plants will voluntarily adopt new, stricter standards, despite the fact that a similar program existed in the 2015 rule, and virtually no coal plants adopted it. 

This pro-polluter proposal is just another part of the Administration’s dirty water agenda, another outrageous attempt to gut the Clean Water Act. The public will reject this dangerous plan.”


Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table. We will protect clean water in the face of attacks from a polluter friendly Administration.

Jennifer Peters