Texas Groundwater Contaminated by Coal Ash Pits

Jan. 21, 2019

16 coal ash pits are leaking contaminants into groundwater, including arsenic, boron, cobalt and lithium, in Texas

In Texas, 16 coal ash pits are leaking contaminants into groundwater, including arsenic, boron, cobalt and lithium, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

According to Reuters, the report from the national environmental group said a federal rule governing coal pits would not prevent groundwater contamination.

“A history of weak regulatory oversight has led to this problem, and only a stronger regulatory framework can fix it,” the report said, according to Reuters. “Unfortunately, neither the federal Coal Ash Rule nor Texas’s proposed coal ash program rise to that challenge.”

The report also said the pollutants leaking into groundwater from coal ash pits can potentially can cause cancer and damage the human brain, heart and lungs.

President Donald J. Trump has pushed for looser regulations for coal plants as part of his campaign promise to boost coal production, according to Reuters. A federal law in 2016 allows states to develop their own coal ash regulations. According to Reuters, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued a draft coal ash program in August.

Andrea Morrow, TCEQ spokeswoman, said the agency does not comment on reports from other organizations.

The EIP was one of three environmental organizations that asked a federal court to invalidate a coal ash program adopted by the state of Oklahoma, according to Reuters.

Abel Russ, attorney and co-author of the report, said the state of Texas may face a legal challenge to its coal ash program.

“If the Texas rule is weaker than the federal standard, it’s safe to assume there will be a legal challenge,” Russ said at a news conference, according to Reuters.

The draft Texas rule was being revised to match changes in the federal rule, Morrow said.

“A rule to create a program for the management of coal ash in Texas is in development,” Morrow said to Reuters. “The TCEQ continues the process of revising the draft rule due to changes to the federal coal ash rule.”

In 2018, three of the power plants covered by the EIP report were shuttered, but the coal ash pits remain. Texas receives 24% of its electrical power from coal.

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