by Sudhit Rao
The Oak Creek power plant by Lake Michigan is one of the largest sources of toxic metal pollution in the lake. It is in the top seven of toxic metal pollutants nationwide but is the major pollutant in Lake Michigan by a large margin.
The heart of the problem lies with metals within the ash produced by coal burning and leftovers from scrubbers, which are meant to lower air pollution. This metal waste is mixed with water into a sloshy mess and is slowly let out into water bodies such as lakes and rivers, lowering water quality. These metals, when consumed by humans can cause cancer, damage organs, or even cause reproductive issues.
During Obama’s administration, Obama’s EPA strengthened regulations that limited the amount of toxic metal that could be released into the lake which would still be in effect today. That is until Trump’s EPA loosened the regulation once taking office in 2017. Last week, they finally eliminated the standard completely, which excuses coal power plants such as Oak Creek from any sort of regulation.
These changes would come at the expense of the 20 million Americans who rely on these water bodies to drink water and eat fish. Betsy Southerland, who led the development of the Obama rule back in 2015 said “There is just no way anyone can justify that trade-off.” Since Trump took office in 2017, the EPA has rollbacked on several environmental acts and this is just one of many.
Lobbyists from the ever-declining coal industry, which is said to have a share of just 18% of electricity production down from 50% from 10 years ago, have had to lay off many since Obama introduced his acts. They claim that the Obama Administration failed “to consider accurately the cumulative costs of EPA’s major rules affecting the utility industry, the coal industry, and the communities depending on them.”
Trump’s EPA has setback the fight against climate change by making coal power plants such as Oak Creek exempt from most requirements for another decade. These changes will be put in front of a court while coal companies have put any projects on hold until then. The future of the coal industry remains unknown but what we do know is according to Southerland, “They had an opportunity here to protect people at a fraction of the costs we estimated. They just choose not to do so.”