March 15, 2000
The Honorable Carol Browner
United States Environmental Protection Agency
401 M St. SWWashington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator Browner,
Thanks to your leadership, this year the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) will make public the amount of toxic pollution generated from burning coal and oil to generate electricity. The public will also learn that legal loopholes allow utilities to release millions of pounds of toxics uncontrolled.
The 1998 TRI, due to be released by the U.S. EPA in March, will confirm what some states have reported, namely that electric utilities are one of the largest sources of toxic pollution in the U.S.
Coal- and oil-fired power plants release toxic heavy metals and acid gases directly into the environment with health effects ranging from respiratory irritation to more serious carcinogenic impacts. The TRI data shows that millions of pounds of acutely toxic hydrogen fluoride, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid are released into the air, millions of pounds of combustion waste laden with arsenic, lead, chromium and barium compounds are released onto the land.
The 1998 TRI report also highlights a major failure of the nation's environmental regulatory program. None of the reported releases by electric utilities are currently regulated under federal environmental statutes. In fact, electric utilities are exempt from the toxics provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Nearly every major industry in the U.S. faces some form of control for its toxic releases except the electric utility industry. It has enjoyed special treatment by the federal government at the expense of protecting public health and the environment. It is time for EPA to address this problem head-on and remove these legal loopholes.
This year, two major decisions await resolution that will significantly reduce the hazards associated with toxic releases from utilities. In March, you will decide whether to continue to exempt coal combustion waste from hazardous waste regulations under RCRA. And in December, you have to determine whether to control toxic emissions from utilities.
We urge you to continue your legacy of protecting public health and the environment by taking swift action to regulate toxic releases from the utility industry. This industry should be required, at a minimum, to face the same requirements imposed on other major polluting industries in the U.S. Anything less would perpetuate an unacceptable health threat to millions of Americans.
Thank you for your leadership on these critically important rulemakings.