Democracy in Action: Why I Asked EPA Not to Roll Back Water Pollution Standards

This blog was written by SACE's High Risk Energy Intern, Kailie Melchior.

Guest Blog | August 16, 2017 | Coal, Energy Policy

Coal fired power plants discharge huge quantities of polluted wastewater, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to delay compliance deadlines for the very modest 2015 power plant water pollution rule – an intention it reiterated in a letter to an industry group on August 11. On July 31, I joined activists from around the country at EPA’s only hearing on the rollback, held in Washington, DC.

As you can imagine, delaying limits on this nasty water pollution could have some very serious consequences. Here are a few of the toxic pollutants in question:

I did some digging to see why this delay was being proposed. What threat could there be that would require taking such a dangerous gamble on people’s health?

What I found was pretty appalling. The EPA’s proposal to delay compliance deadlines for what’s formally known as the Effluent Limitation Guidelines for Steam Electric Power Plants, or ELGs, is based solely on costs the power plant industry worries it will incur in order to comply with these standards. However, the vast majority of power plants will incur zero costs! In fact, the EPA estimated that overall only about 12% of power plants and 28% of coal or petroleum coke burning plants would incur any costs. What’s more, for all but a handful of plants, those costs will amount to less than 1% of the company’s revenue.

The fact that a government agency is not only allowing these pollutants into our waters, but also proposing to delay deadlines to aid the power companies with no regard to the risk of human and environmental wellbeing, is outrageous to me.

And I wasn’t alone in thinking this way. The majority of people that attended the hearing opposed delaying compliance deadlines for the ELG rule. People felt this issue was so important that they traveled from faraway states (from Alabama and Georgia to North Carolina and Missouri) just to speak for the wellbeing of their families and their future. People came from organizations promoting biodiversity, waterkeepers alliances, and clean energy.

But, it was the people that came and spoke for themselves that stuck with me the most. There was a seventeen-year old woman who traveled to D.C. from deep in the South just to ask the EPA to take an interest in her community’s health; there was a local young mother who spoke passionately about the risk this delay would cause her infant child that she held close to her as she spoke; there was a woman that spoke of her breast cancer and how she would never know if the toxic polluted water that surrounded her community caused or worsened her illness. All of these people had many common pleas, but the universal question was: why?

There is so much good to come from the ELG Rule! Once implemented, it would prevent more than a billion pounds of pollutants from being dumped into our nation’s rivers, lakes, and bays every year. It would reduce water withdrawals by 57 billion gallons every year. Compliance with this rule would protect people, the economy, and the ecological systems of the United States. So the question remains: why would EPA want to slow down or weaken such public protections?

Here’s what I told the EPA about delaying power plant water pollution rules:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today. My name is Kailie Melchior; I’m from Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and I work for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. However, my comments today reflect my own personal statement.

 Delaying compliance deadlines, as we are discussing today, allows continued toxic water pollution that disproportionally affects the lower income areas of my community.

The EPA will be failing its main purpose of protecting human health and the environment if it delays ELG compliance deadlines.

Once this system is implemented, it will prevent more than a billion pounds of pollutants from being dumped into our nations rivers, lakes and bays every year. Furthermore, delaying these compliance deadlines hinders the benefits that we would see in improved human health, economic and recreational opportunities.

 The proposal to delay compliance deadlines only serves the power companies, as it attempts to meter the costs to these companies from complying with the ELG rules. However, the vast majority of power plants would incur zero costs to comply with the 2015 rule.

Furthermore, by having only one hearing in Washington, D.C., and not in places closer to impacted communities, the EPA has further marginalized the people most affected by this decision.

 It does not make logical sense to delay compliance. In doing so, the EPA is risking severe health problems in the form of cancer in humans and lowered IQ among children. It would barely provide assistance to the power companies and the damage that would result from it far outweighs any benefit. For these reasons, I strongly oppose delaying compliance deadlines.

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