Proposed coal plants across the United States would produce nearly 18 million tons of dangerous waste, including toxic metals, each year. Nearly 130 million tons of coal waste from existing plants is being produced annually, most of which is disposed of in largely unregulated landfills, ponds and other locations, posing serious public health and environmental risks.
According to a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the 15 states that would be the biggest polluters -- the "Filthy 15" -- have proposals for 54 coal plants and would create nearly 14 million tons of dangerous waste.
The list is topped by Texas (rank #1, 8 proposed plants, 4,093,087 tons of coal ash waste); followed by: South Dakota (#2, 2, 952,630); Florida (#3, 3, 911,118); Nevada (#4, 3, 888,272); Montana (#5, 3, 848,278); Illinois (#6, 4; 797,450); South Carolina (#7, 2, 731,110); Ohio (#8, 3, 711,616); Wyoming (#9, 5, 697,850); Michigan (#10, 5, 686,897); Kentucky (#11, 4, 593,662); Missouri (#12, 4, 515,709); Wisconsin (#13, 3, 507,952); Georgia (#14, 2; 445,202); and West Virginia (#15, 3, 430,275).
(A complete list of states and national data can be found here: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/coalwaste.)
"Coal waste poses a large and unnecessary risk to people's health and the environment, and we need to act before another Kingston disaster strikes," said Peter Lehner, executive director of NRDC, "The EPA took a big step forward this week by announcing it will regulate coal ash, but they need to quickly examine how coal waste is handled and ensure proper management and disposal are in place at all new plants."
Earlier this week, EPA announced that it would begin to regulate coal ash, a shift in position after years of delay. Many states currently allow dangerous coal waste to be dumped, without proper oversight, into poorly constructed landfills, ponds and even old mines. These storage facilities risk having coal waste seep into ground water or breaking, like the Kingston, Tennessee, disaster that unleashed 1 billion gallons of coal ash last December.
The EPA conducted an assessment in 2007 that showed that certain types of ash disposal sites pose a cancer risk nearly 1,000 times the acceptable level. EPA also identified 24 sites in 13 states that are known or suspected to be contaminated by coal ash, but has not been regulating coal ash disposal, instead allowing states to set their own regulations, which are typically weak.
According to the new NRDC analysis, proposed coal plants would also produce more than 18,000 tons annually of toxic metals -- like arsenic, mercury, lead, and other toxic substances. The toxic metals that are often found in coal waste can pose serious health risks to people -- especially children -- including cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, damage to the nervous system and kidneys, and learning disabilities.
The "Filthy 15" states with proposed plants that would produce largest amount of toxic materials is led by Texas; and includes: South Dakota, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Nevada, Montana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Wyoming, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, West Virginia and Georgia.
"There are cleaner, safer and more sustainable energy choices available," said Lehner. "America should be moving toward energy efficiency and renewable energy sources that will drive our economic recovery and meet the challenges of the 21st Century."
In conjunction with the new analysis, NRDC has released a new Web site that includes a state-by-state breakdown of the total amount annually of waste, including toxic metals, from existing and proposed plants. Go to: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/coalwaste.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.