Coal-fired power plants account for almost a third of the toxic pollution discharged to our rivers and streams from all industrial sources, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-- far more than any other industry. In November 2015, EPA finally published the first standards limiting toxic discharges from the mountains of coal ash and scrubber sludge that coal plants pile up every year. This report relies on publicly available data about water pollution releases of toxic metals from coal plants to assess how much work plants, state agencies, and the EPA need to do before the new rule's limits start to take effect in 2018.
From 2013 to 2015, EIP conducted our own air quality monitoring project in Curtis Bay and Brooklyn, two neighborhoods in the southern part of Baltimore City that are located next to an industrial area. We monitored for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a pollutant that is produced by combustion (burning) processes and, even at relatively low levels, can increase risk of mortality from lung cancer and heart and respiratory disease. We were testing the hypothesis that PM2.5 levels would be higher in these neighborhoods than elsewhere in Baltimore and trying to develop a project that produces high quality data and can be replicated by other communities. Additionally, our guide for citizens who are interested in conducting their own project using our procedures can be found here.
More than 68 million pounds of mostly illegal air pollution poured from 679 facilities in Texas during 3,421 incidents of breakdowns and maintenance in 2015. This report, by the Environmental Integrity Project and Environment Texas, ranks the state's worst industrial sites in terms of air pollution releases during equipment malfunctions and maintenance. The report provides evidence that the oil and gas industry is the worst for spewing a huge portion of its pollution during malfunctions.
The federal Safe Drinking Water Act has required public water supplies to limit arsenic concentrations in drinking water to no more than 10 parts per billion (ppb) since 2006, in order to reduce exposure to the deadly toxin linked to lung and bladder cancers, neurological problems, and other illnesses. But the average arsenic concentrations in 65 Texas community water systems serving more than 82,000 people has exceeded that health-based standard over the last two years, according to data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). About 51,000 of these people in 34 communities have been exposed to contaminated drinking water for at least a decade, many at levels several times higher than the arsenic limit. Despite evidence of long-term exposure, TCEQ continues to tell consumers they do not need to use alternative water supplies. Click here to download average arsenic concentrations for each water system.
Although natural gas is often touted as a clean “green” fuel, low gas prices from hydraulic fracturing sparked proposals in 2015 for 44 petrochemical industry construction and expansion projects that are expected to increase greenhouse gas pollution by 86 million tons a year -- as much as from 19 coal-fired power plants, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project. Almost half of these planned or permitted Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) terminals, gas processing plants, fertilizer factories, refineries, and chemical plant construction or expansions projects are in Louisiana, according to state and federal records. Others are in West Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and other states. For a spreadsheet of projects, click here.
Baltimore City signed a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) that required the city to repair its sewer system and “eliminate all” overflows and spills by January 1, 2016, but has only finished about half of the repair work required by the consent decree. Report reveals that Baltimore continues to intentionally pipe tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage mixed with rain water into the Inner Harbor’s main tributary years after federal authorities ordered the city to stop this pollution, leading to property damage for homeowners, high levels of fecal bacteria in the city's waterways. Two sewage system relief pipes on the Jones Falls dumped about 335 million gallons into the waterway in 119 incidents over the last five years, with about 97 percent of these overflows not reported to the public as required by state law, according to an analysis of city and state records. Explore the interactive map.
Mercury pollution from U.S. power plants plummeted by 54 percent between 2004 and 2014, with the improvement driven by air pollution control laws and a shift to natural gas and more renewable energy. Progress across states and industries, however, has been uneven based on EPA's Toxics Release Inventory. Texas and four other states together released about a third of the total mercury pollution in the U.S., while steel mills and metal smelting plants showed an increase in mercury emissions. Read the report to find the biggest contributors to mercury pollution.
Poultry operations on Maryland’s Eastern Shore continue to spread chicken litter loaded with phosphorus onto croplands that already have too much, according to the latest data from reports filed by farmers. Nearly four-fifths of the phosphorus from chicken litter that poultry operators applied to crops went onto fields that had “excessive” soil phosphorus levels, as defined by the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Management Manual. Explore the interactive map.
Fossil-fuel burning power plants discharge at least 5.5 billion pounds of pollution into rivers, streams, lakes and bays each year. Coal-burning plants in particular discharge some of the most dangerous heavy metals on earth, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium. Power plant wastewater has contributed to over 23,000 miles of contaminated rivers, fish too polluted to eat in 185 bodies of water, and the degradation of 399 water bodies that are used as public drinking water sources.
In September 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue new regulations to reduce toxic pollutants in power plant wastewater, which will produce enormous benefits to human health and the environment. This report discusses the health benefits the new rules could achieve by eliminating toxic power plant water pollution and examines EPA’s estimate of the monetary value of these benefits.
Because of cheaper fuel prices driven by the shale drilling boom, U.S. companies in 2014 received draft or final permits to build at least 46 new or expanded petrochemical facilities across the U.S. that will produce 55 million tons of greenhouse gases a year, according to the Environmental Integrity Project report, "Blowback from the Shale Boom." That’s the equivalent of 12 new coal-fired power plants (500 megawatt) operating at full capacity.
These major construction projects include large mid-stream compressors, plants that process gas or shale oil into fuel or feedstock, and chemical and fertilizer manufacturers. Projects launched within these sectors over the past three years will increase greenhouse gas emissions by more than 130 million tons annually, based on estimates in 105 draft or final permits and 15 applications still pending. That is equivalent to the global warming output of 28 new coal burning power plants.
Poultry farmers spread three times more phosphorus in chicken manure on their fields than their crops needed, according to records from 62 poultry operations in five counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2012. This excessive application of poultry manure is a problem because manure is loaded with phosphorus, and applying it to fields that already have more than enough contributes to phosphorus runoff pollution that feeds algal blooms and low oxygen “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay. Approximately 75 percent of the phosphorus in chicken manure applied on these farms was over the amounts needed, and 61 percent of the manure was spread on land that already had “excessive” phosphorus levels, based on criteria published by the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Because phosphorus was applied in amounts far higher than what crops used, its concentration in soil increased by an estimated 10 percent by the end of the 2012 growing season.
This analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project is based on field-level data in farm fertilizer management reports called Annual Implementation Reports submitted to the state by 62 poultry operations that spread manure on their own cropland in Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties. The data is incomplete, because reports from hundreds of other poultry operations show that about 85 percent of poultry manure is shipped offsite to crop farms and other locations within the Eastern Shore, and crop farms are not required to disclose field-level phosphorus application rates in annual reports.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires drilling companies to obtain Safe Drinking Water Act permits before they are allowed to inject diesel products into the ground to hydrofracture (“frack”) for oil and gas. These permits act as safeguards for public health because they require drillers to take steps to reduce the risk that benzene and related pollutants found in diesel will contaminate groundwater. The compounds found in diesel, called BTEX for Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene, are highly toxic and subject to federal health-based standards for drinking water to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. An August 2014 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, “Fracking Beyond the Law,” documented the illegal use of diesel in fracking and described how this practice poses a risk to drinking water supplies.
This follow-up report describes an even greater potential public health threat from a loophole in the law. Because of a gap in the Safe Drinking Water Act, companies are allowed to inject other petroleum products (beyond diesel) without a permit, and many of these non-diesel drilling fluids contain even higher concentrations of the same toxins found in diesel. This report is based on a review of drilling company disclosures made to an industry-sponsored database of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, called “FracFocus,” as well as industry Material Data Safety Sheets. Exactly how often companies use these other highly toxic petroleum products in fracking is unclear, in part because not all firms disclose to FracFocus, and some of those that do withhold chemical ingredients as “proprietary” information. But the Environmental Integrity Project’s research suggests the use of fluids containing one or more BTEX toxins is fairly common.
The Environmental Integrity Project reviewed state pollution documents for four Pennsylvania coal prep plants that together account for more than 95% of the coal preparation capacity in the Commonwealth: Consol’s Bailey Coal Preparation Plant; Alpha Natural Resources’ Cumberland Coal Preparation Plant, Alpha Natural Resources’ Emerald Mine No. 1 and Coal Preparation Plant, and Rosebud’s Dutch Run Coal Preparation Plant. Coal preparation plants release large quantities of particulate matter, volatile organic chemicals, greenhouse gases, and other pollutants into the air every day, and the water pollution problems from these facilities received national attention earlier this year when a spill of toxic coal cleaning chemical 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (“MCHM”) spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia, shutting off the drinking water supply for over 300,000 people. Our review has revealed numerous and significant deficiencies that likely result in the release of more air and water pollution than the law allows.
In 2005, Congress stripped EPA of its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to regulate injection of fracking fluids, except diesel fuels, as part as what is known as the “Halliburton Loophole.” Congress left intact EPA’s authority to regulate diesel fuels because they contain high levels of benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene or xylene (known as BTEX), chemicals that are highly mobile in groundwater and that are known to cause cancer or other significant health effects. In the past decade, and as recently as February 2014, the industry repeatedly has asserted that the use of diesel fuels in fracking no longer occurs.
And yet, we've identified 351 wells and found no evidence that any of the wells’ operators applied for or received a Safe Drinking Water Act permit. A June 2014 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office addressed the continued use of diesel in the fracking process, and specifically noted that none of the state programs reviewed for the report had issued Safe Drinking Water Act permits. Moreover, we identified numerous fracking fluids with high diesel content for sale online, including over a dozen products offered by Halliburton (advertised as additives, friction reducers, emulsifiers, solvents, etc.) Operators are clearly buying these products without obtaining permits to use them. In addition, our review of diesel products available online found no indication that Halliburton or any other supplier is informing customers that injection of diesel products is prohibited unless authorized by a Safe Drinking Water Act permit.
The Chesapeake Bay is overloaded with phosphorus and nitrogen, nutrients that trigger algae blooms that block sunlight and rob Bay waters of the oxygen needed to sustain a healthy ecosystem. EPA and states that share the Bay watershed have agreed to restrict discharges from agricultural, industrial and urban sources to help meet Bay water quality goals by 2025. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program estimates that agricultural sources accounted for 57% of the phosphorus and 42% of the nitrogen discharged to Bay waters in 2013, more than any other sector.1 Not surprisingly, farm runoff contributes the largest share of nutrients to the tidal rivers that meander through Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which are located near the heart of the state’s poultry industry. Agriculture is the source of 60 to 73% of the nitrogen and 68 to 84% of the phosphorus in Eastern Shore watersheds, which include the Chester, Choptank, Transquaking, Nanticoke, Sassafras, Manokin, Pocomoke and Wicomico rivers.
These watersheds help replenish the Bay, provide critical habitat for fish and other wildlife, and are an invaluable recreational resource for those who visit or live on the Eastern Shore. They are also surrounded by 1,339 chicken farms that sent over 500 million broilers to market in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while generating over 1 billion pounds of manure containing an estimated 30.2 million pounds of phosphate. A thousand broiler chickens create about a ton of phosphorus-rich manure per year, which is then typically spread on cropland or pasture as fertilizer. Because the lower Eastern shore is already saturated with phosphorus, the amount that cannot be absorbed by soil or plants finds its way to the Bay through surface runoff or the discharge from groundwater underneath fields to nearby creeks.
The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a multistate, multi-year effort to restore the health of the Bay through pollution limits, is several years along with little evidence of progress. Many indicators of Bay health are not improving, and although some pollution source sectors have made demonstrable progress, overall pollution loads are not declining nearly
The Bay TMDL will only succeed if every source of nutrient pollution is accountable. The agricultural sector – including crop farms, livestock farms, and concentrated animal feeding operations – contributes more of the pollutants that impair Bay health than any other sector. In 2013, agriculture was responsible for 42% of nitrogen pollution, 57% of phosphorus, and 59% of sediment delivered to the Bay. Agricultural sources pollute in multiple ways, but the dominant pathways are runoff and groundwater infiltration from fields fertilized with manure or commercial fertilizers. This pollution is not easy to trace, because it does not flow out of a pipe like conventional “point sources.” Point sources are routinely monitored, so we know what the baseline amounts of pollution from these sources were before the Bay TMDL was created in 2010, and we know how much TMDL-related efforts have reduced the pollution. With most agricultural sources, however, the baseline amounts of pollution and future reductions are based on modeling and educated guesses. Since agricultural reductions are essential to the success of the TMDL, the assumptions built into these models are critically important. If the assumptions are wrong, the model predictions are also wrong. The data we review in this report suggest that the assumptions and the models may be overestimating the reductions in agricultural pollution.
The billion-gallon spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) Kingston plant in 2008 reminded us that unregulated and poorly maintained coal ash ponds are an invitation to disaster. Although less visible, contamination below the surface of TVA’s power plants may be the more serious, long-lasting legacy from decades of mismanagement. Based on a review of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, this report shows that TVA’s ponds and landfills have contaminated groundwater under and around all eleven of the utility’s fleet of coal-fired power plants.
The impacted groundwater is now unsafe for human consumption. The polluted groundwater is also draining into nearby rivers and streams, presenting a long-term environmental threat. The evidence of contamination is substantial, but it understates the damage due to gaps in data collection and because TVA stopped monitoring at some sites after initial results indicated high levels of contamination. No cleanup plans are in place at these sites, as state oversight is minimal and EPA has yet to set federal standards to guide the monitoring and cleanup of groundwater at coal ash sites. TVA needs a comprehensive, system-wide plan to strengthen its groundwater monitoring network and remediate the toxic legacy that coal ash disposal has created.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of toxic water pollution in the United States based on toxicity, dumping billions of pounds of pollution into America’s rivers, lakes, and streams each year. The waste from coal plants, also known as coal combustion waste, includes coal ash and sludge from pollution controls called “scrubbers” that are notorious for contaminating ground and surface waters with toxic heavy metals and other pollutants. These pollutants, including lead and mercury, can be dangerous to humans and wreak havoc in our watersheds even in very small amounts. The toxic metals in this waste do not degrade over time and many bio-accumulate, increasing in concentration as they travel up the food chain, ultimately collecting in our bodies, and the bodies of our children.
Our review of 386 coal-fired power plants across the country demonstrates that the Clean Water Act has been almost universally ignored by power companies and permitting agencies. Our survey is based on the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database and our review of discharge permits for coal-fired power plants. For each plant, we reviewed permit and monitoring requirements for arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium; the health of the receiving water; and the permit’s expiration date.
The South Baltimore neighborhoods of Curtis Bay, Brooklyn and Hawkins Point (referred to in this report as the Baybrook Area or Baybrook) have a long history as the focal point of industrialization in Baltimore City. This includes two events in which residents were relocated from the most industrial part of this area because of health concerns. The Baybrook community presently has high mortality (death) rates from heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease and lung cancer, which are diseases that have been associated with air pollution exposure. Furthermore, 2010 census statistics show approximately 20% of families living below the poverty line in Baybrook, raising environmental justice concerns.
The Environmental Integrity Project issues this report in order to provide more information to the community and to decision-makers about air pollution and health in Baybrook. However, there is still a great deal of information that is not known, particularly about the cumulative impacts on residents’ health of the multiple source of pollution to which they are exposed.
In conducting the research for this report, we reviewed air quality information from a number of different sources, including data recorded by ambient (outside) air monitors and models and databases developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
More than 130,000 people die every year of heart and lung diseases that result from inhaling particles smaller than the width of a human hair. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of this pollution, which is caused by sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and unburned particles released from boiler stacks. Fine particle exposure is starting to decline in many areas, as utilities install scrubbers and other pollution control equipment to meet long-delayed Clean Air Act requirements. But some plants have yet to install the advanced pollution controls that have been commercially available for many years. Meanwhile, the coal industry’s allies in Congress are seeking to delay or weaken standards, arguing that even the dirtiest plants are so economically valuable, they ought to be exempt from requirements their competitors have already met.
A closer look suggests that the social cost of many of the dirtiest plants – taking into account the premature deaths caused by their pollution – far outweighs the value of the energy they produce. EIP identified 51 plants with the largest emissions of sulfur dioxide in 2010 and 2011 that do not yet have plans to install or upgrade scrubbers (according to the best available information). Dr. Jonathan Levy of the Boston University School of Public Health estimated the premature deaths in 2011 due to fine particle exposures caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter from each of these plants, using a peer-reviewed approach consistent with EPA methods and using an upper and lower bound for premature mortality based on two benchmark studies the Agency has relied upon in rulemaking. These estimates take into account emissions as well as other factors, such as the size of the population downwind of each plant.
The Environmental Integrity Project has been collecting evidence of groundwater contamination near coal ash ponds and landfills for several years, and the more we look, the more we find. After EPA documented 67 proven or potential ‘damage cases’ in 2007, we found groundwater or surface water contamination at 70 additional sites, and submitted our analysis to EPA in two reports released in February and August of 2010.
In this report, we identify an additional 19 sites where coal combustion waste appears to have contaminated groundwater with arsenic or other pollutants at levels above primary Safe Drinking Water Act Maximum Contaminant Limits (MCL) for pollutants like arsenic. All but two have also measured concentrations of other pollutants – such as boron, molybdenum, and manganese – above the limits EPA has recommended in Health Advisories for children or adults. In addition, our report includes new information about 7 previously recognized damage cases, including stunning evidence of groundwater more toxic than hazardous waste leachate. Finally, we have identified soil contamination at an Indiana site where coal ash was used to fill in a rail bed. These structural fills account for most “recycling” of coal combustion waste, and are largely unregulated.
Maryland has recently seen a surge in proposals to construct or expand Waste-to-Energy (WTE) incinerators which will result in more than doubling Maryland’s capacity to incinerate trash for energy use. These facilities combust trash (i.e. municipal solid waste) to generate electricity and produce steam for heating buildings. Although industry reports show that no incinerators were constructed in the entire country between 1996 and 2007, Maryland currently has at least three projects – the new Energy Answers plant in Baltimore City, the proposed expansion of the Harford County Resource Recovery Facility, in Harford County, and the proposed Frederick County Incinerator in Frederick County – under development or already permitted for construction. In light of this recent trend, the Environmental Integrity Project researched the emissions from these facilities, the policies underlying this trend, the impact on renewable energy in Maryland, and steps Maryland can take to minimize emissions or reduce the need for new plants.
More than 30 years ago, Congress prohibited disposal practices that posed unreasonable risks to public health, and required closure of illegal “open dumps” within five years. In 1979, EPA defined “open dumping” to include any disposal that caused groundwater pollution to exceed Safe Drinking Water Act “Maximum Contaminant Levels” then in effect for arsenic and other pollutants. These standards were adopted under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle D, which deals with nonhazardous solid wastes. This is the subtitle that coal and power industries have promoted as the best alternative for coal ash regulation. While EPA can set Subtitle D standards, the Agency is prohibited from enforcing them and provides no funds for State implementation.
Based on a review of recent (though limited) groundwater monitoring data from state agencies, at least 33 active coal ash disposal sites in 19 states meet the open dumping criteria for one or more of the following coal ash‐related pollutants: arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, fluoride, lead, mercury, and selenium. This list includes chemicals that cause cancer, neurological damage, developmental problems, and other diseases. Groundwater that meets the open dumping criteria is toxic and unsafe to drink.
Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants rose 5.56% in 2010 over the year before, the biggest annual increase since the Environmental Protection Agency began tracking emissions in 1995. Electricity generators released 2.423 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2010, compared to 2.295 billion tons in 2009, according to information available on EPA’s “Clean Air Markets” database. While the increase is worrisome, power plant emissions are still below the high water mark of 2.565 million tons set in 2007. Last year’s rise was driven in part by a 3.0% net increase in overall generation for the 12 months ending in November of 2010.
This report documents the connection between coal ash and hexavalent chromium. It reviews the sources, toxicity, and known coal ash dump sites where chromium has been found in groundwater. The report identifies studies of numerous power plants where testing of coal ash leachate found extremely high levels of hexavalent chromium. The report also identifies 28 coal ash disposal sites in 17 states where groundwater was documented to exceed existing federal or state standards for chromium and to exceed by many orders of magnitude the proposed California drinking water goal for hexavalent chromium. These contaminated coal ash dump sites are likely the tip of the iceberg. The threat of drinking water contamination by hexavalent chromium is present in hundreds of communities near unlined coal ash disposal sites across the United States. While the EPA doesn’t need another reason to define coal ash as a hazardous waste when disposed, it certainly has one now.
An investigation led by expert hydrogeologists has identified 39 more coal combustion waste (CCW) disposal sites in 21 states that have contaminated groundwater or surface water with toxic metals and other pollutants. Their analysis is based on monitoring data and other information available in state agency files and builds on a report released in February of 2010, which documented similar damage at 31 coal combustion waste dump sites in 14 states. This total represents nearly a three-fold increase in the number of damage cases identified in EPA’s 2000 Regulatory Determination on the Wastes from the Combustion of Fossil Fuels.
The power plants that provide electricity to run our homes, businesses, and factories are also the single largest source of mercury air pollution in the United States, responsible for more than 40 percent of all human-caused mercury emissions nationwide.
Mercury is a highly toxic metal, and once released into the atmosphere, it settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain to humans. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, roughly half of the nation’s lakes and reservoirs have levels of mercury that exceed safe levels. Despite years of promises, the electric power industry has barely made a dent in its mercury emissions this decade. Each year, more than 300,000 newborn babies may have an increased risk of learning disabilities due to in utero exposure to mercury compounds.
Americans do not need to live with these dangerous risks. Pollution controls that dramatically reduce mercury emissions are widely available, and are already being used at many power plants. But, until the public and policymakers hold the electric power industry to its promises to shut down or clean up the nation’s oldest and dirtiest plants, Americans will continue to bear unnecessary health and environmental costs.
Coal-fired power plants generate nearly 140 million tons of fly ash, scrubber sludge, and other combustion wastes every year. At 15 of the 31 sites, contamination has already migrated off the power plant property (off-site) at levels that exceed drinking water or surface water quality standards. The remaining 16 show evidence of severe on-site pollution. Because off-site monitoring data at 14 of these 16 sites were not available, damage may be more severe and widespread than indicated in this report. These wastes contain some of the earth’s most deadly pollutants, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, selenium, and other toxic metals that can cause cancer and neurological harm in humans and poison fish. This report brings to light 31 coal combustion waste sites that are known to have contaminated groundwater, wetlands, creeks, or rivers in 14 states: Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The data presented in the attached report were compiled from monitoring data and other information in the files of state agencies.
Nearly one year ago, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) made front page news when an 84-acre coal combustion waste (CCW or coal waste) impoundment at Kingston Fossil Plant spilled more than 1 billion gallons of toxic coal waste—an amount nearly 100 times greater than the Exxon Valdez oil spill—into the Emory River and surrounding community. The spill covered land and water with coal sludge up to 12 feet deep, and destroyed homes, playgrounds, businesses, roads, waterways, and railroad tracks.
However, the evidence in this report reveals that the Kingston spill is only the latest and most dramatic example of environmental mismanagement at one of the nation’s largest utilities. President Roosevelt established TVA nearly 80 years ago as a public utility dedicated to progressive management on behalf of the public interest, but TVA’s environmental record and conduct in recent years mock the vision that inspired its founding.
Each year, coal-fired power plants dispose of nearly 100 million tons of toxic fly ash, bottom ash, and scrubber sludge in wet ponds and landfills. Can living next to one of these dumpsites increase your risk of getting cancer or other diseases? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thinks so, especially if you live near one of those wet ash ponds, or surface impoundments, that dot the landscape near large coal plants, the pond has no protective liner, and you get your drinking water from a well. According to a comprehensive but little known risk assessment released by the EPA in 2007, nearby residents have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated by arsenic, one of the most common, and most dangerous, pollutants from coal ash.
This brief analysis from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice highlights key findings from the EPA‘s 2007 risk assessment, which was based on a detailed analysis of landfills and surface impoundments at 181 coal-fired power plants, primarily identified by a 1995 survey by the Electric Power Research Institute.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from U.S. power plants dropped 3.1 percent in 2008, tempering a steady increasing trend in recent years. In contrast to the one-year decline in emissions, power plant CO2 emissions have risen one percent since 2003, and 4.5 percent since 1998, according to new data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientific community is that urgent measures are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 80 percent over the next four decades.The Obama Administration has proposed a plan to reduce emissions by 83 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2050, through cap-and-trade legislation. The Administration has proposed an interim short-term goal of a 14 percent reduction in emissions by 2020.
This data may be helpful as policymakers identify the states and specific power plants that warrant heightened attention as the nation grapples with the shift to a carbon-constrained energy future.
The massive spill of toxic coal ash from TVA’s Kingston plant in Tennessee just before Christmas dramatized how unsafe disposal practices can damage the environment and threaten the health of residents downstream. But according to data reported by the industry to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), power plants dump millions of pounds of toxic metals that are contained in coal ash into wet surface impoundments every year. Based on USEPA’s analysis, approximately 74% of these impoundments are unlined, increasing the risk that toxic pollutants like arsenic and lead will leach into groundwater or nearby rivers and streams.
Between 2000 and 2006, the power industry reported depositing coal ash containing more than 124 million pounds of the following six toxic pollutants into surface impoundments: arsenic, chromium, lead, nickel, selenium, and thallium. These pollutants are present in coal ash, prone to leaching from ash into the environment and can be highly toxic at minute levels (parts per million or billion) to either humans or aquatic life, or both. More information about the health effects of each contaminant can be found in the report.
Over two thirds of currently planned expansions of U.S. oil refining capacity are designed and intended to accommodate heavier, dirtier crude oil from Canadian “tar sands,” according to data on U.S. oil refinery permitting activity under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) recently compiled and analyzed by the Environmental Integrity Project. The data in this report suggest that U.S. refineries are placing a major bet on a fuel source which is dirtier to mine, process and refine, and the extraction of which releases three times more greenhouse gas as conventional crude oil.
As the petrochemical capital of the United States, the Houston area is at the center of a toxics storm. Numerous studies have documented dangerous levels of toxic air pollution in the Houston area, including the Milby Park and Galena Park neighborhoods. Communities in other industrialized areas throughout Texas face similar toxic threats. Refineries and chemical plants along the Texas Gulf Coast are major contributors to toxic hotspots in Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Freeport, Port Arthur, Port Neches, and Texas City.
Using Houston as a case study, this report details many of the shortcomings of federal and state toxics regulation, and provides a roadmap for reducing emissions of these harmful pollutants from refineries and chemical plants throughout the state of Texas and beyond.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants rose 2.9 percent in 2007, the biggest single-year increase since 1998, according to new data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Emissions of carbon dioxide from the electric power industry have risen 5.9 percent since 2002, and 11.7 percent since 1997. The current debate over global warming policy tends to focus on the long-term, e.g., whether and how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 or 90 percent over the next fifty years.
But, even as we grapple with these long-term goals, rising emissions from U.S. power plants are making an already dire situation worse. Because CO2 has an atmospheric lifetime of between 50 and 200 years, today’s emissions could cause global warming for up to two centuries to come. This report evaluates the recent power plant data from EPA, which suggest that we must start to reduce carbon dioxide emissions now, before it is too late.
Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury air pollution, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all mercury emissions nationwide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury is a highly toxic metal that, once released into the atmosphere, settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain to humans. The Centers for Disease Control has found that roughly six percent of American women carry mercury concentrations at levels considered to put a fetus at risk of neurological damage.
The U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) tracks mercury emissions from approximately 475 electric generating facilities across the United States. It is too early to tell exactly how much mercury all power plants reported in 2007. However, based on a review of the reports filed by 108 of the largest power plants,3 the most recent, 2007, Toxics Release Inventory will bring disturbing news.
Power plants provide electricity for our homes, businesses, and factories. But they also foul America’s air with dangerous pollution. Each year, power plants emit millions of tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), pollutants that trigger asthma attacks and contribute to lung and heart disease. Power plants are also major contributors to global warming, emitting billions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. And, power plants emit dangerous toxins like mercury, a neurotoxin especially harmful to children and developing fetuses.
Nationwide, power plants account for roughly two thirds of all SO2, 22 percent of NOx, 40 percent of CO2, and roughly a third of all mercury emissions. Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that a disproportionate share of emissions comes from a handful of old plants that have been slow to install modern pollution controls, or which operate inefficiently. This report ranks the top fifty power plant polluters for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and mercury.
The Clean Air Act requires large industrial plants to report their total annual emissions of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and smog forming chemicals to state environmental agencies. But a review of Texas data suggests that some companies omit more than eighty percent of their actual emissions in these annual reports. For example, twenty facilities failed to report nearly 16,000 tons of regulated pollutants they released in 2003 in their annual submissions for that year.
According to nearly 800 notifications to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2003, the twenty plants released a combined total of 19,200 tons of pollutants in 2003 as a result of upsets, maintenance, and startup and shutdown activity, including 7,894 tons of sulfur dioxide, 6,311 tons of carbon monoxide, and 4,947 tons of volatile organic compounds. But when submitting their total annual inventory of emissions to the state for that same year, the facilities admitted releasing only 3,430 tons of pollution. TCEQ currently assesses a fee of $30.90 per ton of emissions reported to the inventory, which means the facilities in question owe the state nearly $500,000 in fees for the unreported pollution.
The Environmental Integrity Project analyzed how many of the municipalities with combined sewer systems in six Great Lakes states (Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, or EPA’s Region 5) are in compliance with the Clean Water Act. In general, we found that more than half of the municipalities in the Great Lakes states are not yet in full compliance with the Clean Water Act. Evidence suggests that many of the municipalities do not meet minimum standards for preventing combined sewer overflows (CSOs), do not have approved long-term plans required by law for upgrading sewage collection
or treatment systems, and do not adequately report the occurrence of CSOs to the public.
Information and data contained in this report were generally derived from federal and state legislative sources; EPA guidance documents, reports and memoranda; EPA’s Permit Compliance System database; information provided by the states and EPA in response to open
records requests; and personal communications with federal and state regulators. Where discrepancies existed between EPA and state data, we used state data.
EPA’s recently released 2003 emissions data shows that power plant SO2 emissions increased by more than 400,000 tons between 2002 and 2003, rising from 10.19 million tons to 10.59 million tons, or 3.9 percent. Carbon dioxide emissions increased by roughly 47 million tons, from 2.425 billion tons in 2002, to 2.472 billion tons in 2003, a 2 percent increase. Nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants declined 5.6 percent, dropping from 4.36 million to 4.12 million tons.
SO2 and NOx interact in the air to form nitric and sulfuric acids, commonly known as acid rain. Besides causing major environmental and property damage, SO2 and NOx combine to form fine particle pollution that causes asthma attacks and lung ailments. According to EPA studies, fine particle pollution from power plants is linked to heart and lung diseases, which contribute to more than 20,000 premature deaths a year.
Whether it is runoff loaded with sediment streaming from construction
sites or the polluted water that flows from industrial lots and city streets into urban storm drains, uncontrolled storm water has a devastating effect on water quality across the United States and poses a serious threat to the Great Lakes region. Storm water damages ecosystems, wildlife, and aquatic habitats by washing bacteria, sediment, heavy metals, oil and grease, and debris into waterways, and also by compounding the effects of erosion and flooding.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases the results of the annual Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) each summer. The TRI has proved to be a powerful tool for raising consciousness about sources of toxic pollution and encouraging companies to act voluntarily to reduce their emissions. The official TRI, however, tells only part of the story because it dramatically underestimates the amount of toxic pollution from the petrochemical industry. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has conducted studies which demonstrate the extent to which emissions of toxic chemicals from petrochemical facilities in Texas are underreported. This report applies the TCEQ’s findings nationwide and reveals that emissions of toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens such as benzene and butadiene, are four to five times higher than is reflected in the TRI.
This report analyzes how the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) regulates livestock operations under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) to protect water quality. In general, IDNR has failed to implement and to enforce the CWA for livestock operations, resulting in degradation of Iowa's waterways.
The Environmental Integrity Project, with the support of the Joyce Foundation, analyzed the water quality monitoring and assessment reports of six Great Lakes states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, or EPA’s Region 5). In general, we found that drawing comparisons and discerning trends in water quality is no small task, due to widely disparate assessment methodologies, inconsistent standards, and significant data gaps.
This report takes a look at the country's sewage collection system. Sewage pipes, some as much as 200 years old, carry enough raw sewage to fill the Great Lakes about every four months. Laid end to end, the pipes that carry raw sewage from America s homes, businesses, institutions, and industries would stretch to the moon and back--twice. But in too many communities across the land, pipes are broken or leaking, systems are overloaded, and treatment is sometimes bypassed. The result is that in this most technologically advanced nation on the face of the planet, raw sewage backs up into peoples homes with disturbing frequency, and is routinely permitted to flow into bodies of water that are sources of drinking water.
Theoretically (and by law), all this raw sewage, with its cargo of infectious bacteria, viruses, parasites, and a growing legion of potentially toxic chemicals, gets treated in wastewater treatment plants. But in reality, this aging, often neglected, and sometimes insufficient network of pipes releases untreated or only partly treated sewage directly into the environment. The average age of collection system components is about 33 years, but some pipes still in use are almost 200 years old.
This report reviews creative actions that states have taken to cut air emissions from some of the dirtiest power plants and manufacturing facilities in the country. These state actions are particularly important today in light of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) weakening of the New Source Review (NSR) rules for existing industrial plants and its decision to drop enforcement investigations against more than 70 power companies for violations of NSR requirements in effect prior to its rule changes. The report examines state laws that will help to blunt the impact of the EPA rollbacks, and suggests alternatives for states considering taking their own steps to fill the void left by EPA.
On December 31, 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced sweeping changes to the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) program. One of the most significant would allow industrial plants (other than utilities) to increase air emissions to their highest level in the past 10 years without being subject to NSR permit or pollution control requirements. The EPA has stated that pollution increases under the new NSR rule will generally be held in check by other Clean Air Act restrictions.
A joint analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project and the Council of State Governments/Eastern Regional Conference (EIP-CSG/ERC) reveals that the revised NSR rule could allow significant increases in emissions. In addition, the analysis finds that emissions growth from industrial facilities will often not be limited by other federal programs absent NSR.
Americans have a right to know when their environmental laws are broken, what actions the government has taken to stop those violations, and whether those who broke the law have paid for their misconduct and corrected the problem.
We obtained enforcement data from five Midwestern states including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and found that, in general, basic data on state actions that address significant violations of federal environmental law are not readily available to the public or to state agency personnel. In many cases, state personnel and citizens can only obtain the information through laborious, file-by-file hand searches. Often these files are scattered among state offices and can only be accessed by citizens through time-consuming Freedom of Information Act or comparable state “sunshine” law requests. In addition, some states charge fees for public information that extend well beyond the means of the average citizen or nonprofit organization.
The Bush Administration’s changes to the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act, announced on November 22, have opened regulatory loopholes that will allow industrial facilities and other non-utilities to avoid installing pollution controls required under previous law. In this Report, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) tracks how these changes allow companies to use pollution from accidents to avoid NSR permit requirements.
Under NSR, regulatory authorities must determine whether planned plant modifications will significantly increase emissions above historical baselines such that pollution controls will have to be installed. Previously, a plant’s emissions baseline was determined by averaging its annual emissions from the past two years, which was then compared to projected future emissions. If that increase was significant – as defined by EPA regulations – then that plant was required to install pollution controls.
The new rule now allows plants to use their highest two years of emissions out of the past ten as their baseline. As documented in a study released by EIP in October, Turning the Clock Back on the Clean Air Act, the effect will be to allow companies to inflate their emissions baselines so that comparing historical emissions to future emissions will no longer register as a significant increase. Today’s Report shows that in addition to the worst two-in-ten loophole, plants can now include accidental emissions from those same years to boost their baselines even more. Use of accidental emissions, in addition to the already-inflated baseline, proves even more that, at least according to the Bush Administration, it pays to pollute.
This report reviews evidence indicating that large volumes of air pollution are released because flares, a pollution control device in use at many refineries and chemical plants, are poorly operated and do not burn cleanly. The specific plants addressed in this Report are located in Port Arthur, Texas, and include Atofina Petrochemical Inc., BASF Fina Petrochemicals, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., Hunstman Corporation, Motiva Enterprises, and the Premcor Refining Group, Inc.
In a previous analysis for the Environmental Integrity Project, Abt Associates estimated the quantity of health effects attributable to fine PM formed from emissions from the major generating facilities of eight electricity generating companies. That analysis examined the health effects attributable to expected future levels of emissions from 83 power plants in the central and eastern United States. This previous study examined the emissions estimated to be released in 2007, after full implementation of all currently mandated major federal regulatory programs affecting electricity generation emissions. Another study Abt Associates prepared for the Clean Air Task Force2 also looked at 2007, examining the health impacts associated with all major power plants throughout the US. Instead of analyzing the health impacts in a future year (2007), this current report estimates these adverse health effects of the 2001 SO2 and NOx emissions from 41 major power plants.
The New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act prohibit companies from expanding their oil refineries or other facilities in a way that increases pollution unless they apply for a permit and put on best available pollution controls. The Bush Administration wants to exempt companies from this requirement if emissions resulting from plant modifications do not rise above a plant’s worst emission levels out of the last ten years. The Bush Administration insists that its loophole will not increase emissions, as common sense would otherwise dictate. The Administration also claims that it is impossible to quantify pollution increases under its plan and has challenged the environmental community to provide this analysis. We took the challenge and found that pollution would in fact increase under the Administration’s proposal.
This report analyzes emissions resulting from startup, shutdown, and malfunctions at refineries and chemical plants in Port Arthur, Texas, and the problems associated with pollution from such unpermitted emissions. The specific plants addressed in this report include Atofina Petrochemicals, Inc., BASF Fina Petrochemicals, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., Motiva Enterprises, and the Premcor Refining Group, Inc.
The Environmental Integrity Project gratefully acknowledges the investigative reporting of Erin Koening of The Examiner in Beaumont, Texas, who drew attention to the data that led to this report.