Clean water rally in DC
Today was a great day for clean water. We saw more than 100 activists turn out at an Environmental Protection Agency public hearing to support strong water pollution standards.

We heard personal stories of families living in the shadow of coal plants who have been directly affected by toxic water pollution from power plants.  We listened to community leaders from across the nation make moving, powerful requests of EPA to finalize strong, meaningful standards that will protect their health, their families, and their homes.

Believe it or not, for decades, power plants have been allowed to dump toxic pollution into our nation’s waterways, with almost no limits. Coal fired power plants are the number one source of toxic water pollution in the U.S., to the tune of billions of pounds a year of dangerous pollutants like mercury, lead, and arsenic.

As a mom who loves to take my little three-year-old daughter swimming, fishing, and boating in the streams and rivers of West Virginia where I live, I know how much is at stake.

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The EPA has finally proposed a national standard to reign in power plant wastewater pollution, and it includes multiple options, some strong, some weak.  The EPA’s critical standards will finally limit the amount of dangerous chemicals that coal plants can dump into our waterways.

With more than half of all toxic water pollution in the country coming from coal-fired power plants, these safeguards will clean up our waterways and save lives. It’s time for coal plants to clean up their act once and for all.

We came to today’s hearing in Washington, D.C., to call on EPA to issue a strong standard to protect Americans from toxic water pollution from power plants. Whether it’s for fishing, swimming or drinking, clean, safe water is a right all Americans deserve. Our lakes and rivers should not be the coal industry’s sewers and toxic trash dumps.

Here’s some of my testimony to the EPA today:

Mah testifyThe Clean Water Act is one of our nation’s greatest achievements, and thanks to this historic legislation, our rivers are no longer catching on fire, and our waterways are safer and healthier than they were decades ago. But forty years after the Act was passed, the coal industry is still polluting with impunity, thanks to a loophole no other industry has enjoyed.

The Sierra Club calls on the EPA to adopt a standard that adequately protects public health and our waterways. That means a standard that requires dry handling of coal ash, moving away from settling ponds that do essentially nothing to treat the waste, and using best water treatment technologies for scrubber sludge and leachate. These are labeled options 4 and 5 in the proposed rule.

As you know, we have technologies available today – in use at some coal plants, as a matter of fact – that can treat this pollution at a modest cost. EPA has every reason to adopt a strong standard. But I understand you are under great pressure to adopt a weak and inadequate standard.

This is no surprise. As President Obama noted in his climate speech last month, this is the boilerplate reaction of polluters any time improved health and safety protections are proposed. As the President also noted, these gloom-and-doom scenarios never come to pass, industry adapts and evolves, and we all enjoy cleaner water and air. I implore you to stand firm and adopt a robust standard that will really protect our water, and our kids – after all, it might be a couple more decades before we get another chance.

I want to close by noting that people have traveled from across the nation to this hearing today, because their health and the health of their families is threatened by what is a completely solvable problem. You now have the solution within your grasp – the opportunity to clean up the majority of our nation’s toxic water pollution, save lives, prevent our kids from getting sick, and make sure our water is safe to drink and our fish are safe to eat. But the weaker options EPA has proposed won’t do the job. We need the EPA to finalize strong effluent limitation guidelines for power plants – options 4 and 5 in the proposed rule. Our kids are counting on you. Thank you.

Tell President Obama and the EPA that now is the time to give us strong and sensible safeguards against toxic wastewater.

Photos by Javier Sierra.