Andrew Wheeler Finalizes Rollback of Water Toxics Rule, Putting Thousands of Communities at Risk


Brian Willis: 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, former coal lobbyist and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler finalized another rollback of key clean water protections, which had been put in place to prevent the vast majority of coal plants across the United States from dumping their toxic, industrial sludge into the drinking water sources of millions of Americans. 

Formally known as the 2015 Effluent Limitation Guidelines, the Water Toxics Rule had represented a significant step towards cleaner water, and reflected years of hard work by EPA staff, who gathered and applied numerous technical and scientific studies, hosted public hearings, and sorted through hundreds of thousands of public comments calling for stronger standards. Before the 2015 Water Toxics Rule, water protections had not been updated since 1982 and it took significant legal action from public health groups to get EPA to develop and finalize the 2015 update.  

Wheeler’s finalized rollback will allow coal plants to discharge millions of gallons of coal ash wastewater daily, even though the technology to eliminate all ash discharges is widely used and affordable. It will also allow higher levels of arsenic and selenium in scrubber sludge to discharge into lakes and rivers, give plants up to 5 years to come into compliance, and then carve dozens of coal plants out from even these weakened standards.

In response to the Water Toxics Rule rollback finalization, Mary Anne Hitt, National Director of Campaigns at Sierra Club, released the following statement:

“Even during a pandemic, a recession, several climate change fueled hurricanes, and national protests against their policies, Donald Trump and Andrew Wheeler are showing their true colors: putting power plant industry profits before the public’s health. The Trump EPA’s final rule is based on bogus science and a flagrantly partisan process - Wheeler allowed no in-person hearings and minimal opportunities for affected communities to weigh in. Wheeler's new rule pushes back compliance dates for their newly approved weakened standards, and carves out giant-sized loopholes for certain coal plant polluters. It’s nothing more than another attempt at a lifeline to an industry responsible for billions of pounds of pollution that contaminate our water year after year. 

“Every rollback that weakens the Clear Water Act is further proof the Trump EPA is putting the interests of polluters before the health and safety of the public. Today’s rule, and every effort to undermine bedrock clean water protections, will undoubtedly jeopardize our waters and our communities, and if Wheeler’s other rollbacks are any indication, it will not help coal workers or their communities. Communities historically tied to the coal industry need help transitioning, not polluted air and water. Our nearly 4 million members and supporters will fight this rule, hold Wheeler and Trump accountable, and demand that EPA live up to the integrity and intent of its mission of protecting people from polluters, not embracing them.”

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit