Environmental (and Human Health) Protection vs. Industry Interests – Who Will Prevail?
Last Thursday the EPA strengthened its standards on lead pollution, updating the law that was 30 years old. “The new standards set the limits for exposure at 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down from 1.5 micrograms, and well within the outer limit of 0.2 micrograms recommended by the advisers.” For me this was great news, as I am concerned about particulate pollution and industry standards for what they are allowed to dump, how much, and where. However, two days after this article was published, the NY Times printed another article stating that the Interior Department wants to relax the laws on mine waste dumping. Two government positions that are in complete conflict with each other, not a surprise.
The Union of Concerned Scientists states that in an average year, a coal plant burns 114 pounds of lead and other toxic heavy metals. If all of that goes into the air when the coal is burned, who knows how much drifts into nearby streams and valleys near the mountains where the coal is actually mined? The liquid waste generated by mountain top removal is dumped into a nearby valley, where the current law is that it must be at least 100 feet away from any stream (the new law states that this requirement can be skirted if “compliance is determined to be impossible” — how is that determined?). The solid waste is carted away into nearby valleys, usually in unlined and unmonitored landfills. How can the industries ask for a relaxation that would impede them from following the new, stricter lead concentration allowed in air? The qualification may be that the sources of pollution are different (water vs. air particulates), but once the waste has been dumped, some of it will be buried and some of the mine tailings can be kicked up into the air.
From this another problem arises – how far ahead are the companies required to plan to keep the dumping sites safe from leaching? This article states that mining pollution and the waste at the dumping sites stick around for quite awhile, affecting wildlife in the are. This means once the companies have stripped all the mountains, they have no long-term abandonment plan and instead leave the mess for the communities to clean up. If we are at all concerned about the quality of our streams or our air, the government cannot have double standards and pander to industries like surface mining.