James Rowen
Op Ed

How Trump Has Increased Coal Pollution

Nationally and in Wisconsin more toxins allowed.

By - Sep 8th, 2020 02:37 pm
Coal pile. File photo by Dave Reid.

Coal pile. File photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin has known and documented problems with pollution from coal-burning power plants, and Trump has used the US Environmental Protection Agency to keep the pollutants flowing. As the Washington Post recently reported, the Trump administration “weakened a 2015 regulation that would have forced coal plants to treat wastewater with more modern, effective methods in order to curb toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury from contaminating lakes, rivers and streams near their facilities.” Dischanges by these power plants rank as the largest source of toxic water pollution in the United States, the story noted.

Is there any constituency outside of a few coal-mining and fossilized power plant board rooms for making this situation worse? As I’ve previously written, “Mercury is a known health hazard. Trump wans you exposed to more of it.” Trump wants what used to be the Environmental Protection Agency — now run by a former coal industry lobbyist — to allow larger mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Even though electrical power generators oppose the rule as the Post reported: “Exelon, one of the nation’s largest utilities, told the EPA that its effort to change a rule that has cut emissions of mercury and other toxins is ‘an action that is entirely unnecessary, unreasonable, and universally opposed by the power generation sector’…Despite a chorus of opposition from unions, business groups and electric utilities, the EPA is on the verge of finalizing its proposal as part of a broader effort to overhaul how the government calculates the health benefits of cleaner air. Coal executives have lobbied for it, arguing it represented one of the worst excesses of what President Trump calls ‘the war on coal’. The agency plans to declare that it is not ‘appropriate and necessary’ for the government to limit harmful pollutants from power plants, even though every utility in America has complied with standards put in place in 2011 under President Barack Obama.”

I’ve been reporting on the extent of known mercury contamination in Wisconsin, so check out the data and ask yourselves if more of this known hazard fits your diet, your kids’ health and your definition of environmental protection?

Here are some of the key data about known mercury contamination in Wisconsin — and since we know what goes out of smokestacks comes down — you have to ask yourself in light of Trump’s support for making it more likely that these and other numbers nationally will go up: Isn’t this enough?

  • Miles of impairment, rivers and streams, Mercury 888.2
  • Great Lakes shorelines, miles, 259.4.
  • Lakes, reservoirs and ponds acres, 284,275.
  • Bays and estuaries, square miles, 6,067.

That’s a lot of pollution.

James Rowen, a former journalist and mayoral staffer in Milwaukee and Madison, writes a regular blog, The Political Environment.

Categories: Environment, Op-Ed, Politics

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