By Becky Hammer, Natural Resources Defense Council
Today, 48 craft breweries around the country submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency opposing the agency’s proposal to weaken water pollution safeguards for coal-burning power plants.
Power plant wastewater discharges are the largest source of toxic water pollution in the United States. This wastewater contains harmful substances like mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium that can cause cancer, neurological damage, and other serious health problems.
Many power plants discharge this waste into waterways that are used as sources of drinking water. Over the past century, coal plant wastewater discharges have contaminated 23,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country, including 4,000 miles that are now no longer safe to use as a source of drinking water. There have also been documented cases of power plant discharges contaminating communities’ drinking water supplies with arsenic and bromide.
Until recently, the national pollution standards for power plant wastewater discharges hadn’t been updated since 1982. These outdated standards didn’t include any limits on toxic metals and allowed coal plants to cause significant environmental damage.
In 2015, the EPA finally took action to update the standards. The agency adopted a rule setting the first-ever national pollutant limits on the amount of heavy metals and other chemicals that power plants can discharge into waterways. These new limits were designed to be affordable to implement while reducing 1.4 billion pounds of toxic pollution every year. The standards went into effect in 2016, and power plants started to upgrade their technology to meet the new standards.
Now the current administration is proposing to weaken the standards for the largest and most toxic power plant wastewater streams addressed in the 2015 rule. These proposed changes would threaten drinking water sources around the country, including the water that many breweries use to brew beer.