There are 265 power plants monitoring groundwater in the United States.
242 (91%) of them report unsafe levels of pollutants from coal ash-waste disposal.
According to an analysis from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), nine out of every 10 coal plants, three-quarters of all U.S. facilities with reportable data, claim groundwater is poisoned with at least one coal-ash pollutant; a majority report dangerous levels of at least four separate contaminants.
Coal plants produce about 100 million tons of coal ash annually.
At least two billion tons are stored in aging pits without protective lining designed to prevent seepage.
EIP attorney Abel Russ explained:
"The pollution is basically everywhere you look. The major concern is that this could be a problem for decades or centuries because once the pollutants leach from the coal ash into the water, they are hard to get out."
After a dike ruptured and spilled ash in 2008 at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee, leading to several hundred deaths and illnesses, the Obama administration instituted the Coal Ash Rule in 2015, tightening coal ash disposal regulations.
This required power companies to monitor groundwater from ash dump-adjacent wells and publicize their data.
Since May 2018, public data from over 550 coal-ash ponds have been released.
That trend is coming to an end, however.
About Wheeler, Abel Russ said:
"We've never really been happy with the EPA's approach to this but now it is run by a coal lobbyist we are even more skeptical. Over the long term it's going to become clear the EPA needs to be stronger and do something, but that probably won't happen under this administration."
In July, the EPA extended to 18 months the time coal plants can use unlined coal-ash pits for dumping, claiming it would "provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash."