Energy Transfer and Sunoco Pipelines Have Leaked Every Eleven Days on Average

Energy Transfer Partners, its subsidiaries including Sunoco, and joint ventures reported 527 hazardous liquids pipeline incidents to federal regulators from 2002 to 2017.


Today, Greenpeace USA and Waterkeeper Alliance published a ground-breaking report on Energy Transfer Partners’ poor safety record, analyzing sixteen years of operations for the company’s existing oil and hazardous liquids pipelines. Based on public data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the ‘Oil and Water: ETP & Sunoco’s History of Pipeline Spills’ report and accompanying interactive map show that the company’s pipeline network has experienced a steady stream of pipeline spills totaling 527 incidents from 2002 to 2017. The report also presents evidence of pervasive water pollution, spills, violations of permits, and stop-work orders while constructing new pipelines.

“Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco’s existing pipelines have leaked every eleven days on average for sixteen years. That’s a red flag for a company that has an extensive network across the country and is building even more pipelines as we speak in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and other states. We all recall the Dakota Access pipeline construction process because of the inspiring resistance from Indigenous communities that wanted to protect their water. Those Water Protectors were right; that pipeline alone leaked four times in 2017. ETP and Sunoco’s track record of spills, including several striking examples of big spills, are indicators of a constant threat to communities and water. As one example, in October 2014 the Mid-Valley Pipeline spilled 189,000 gallons of oil and contaminated a ten-mile section of Tete Bayou near Mooringsport, Louisiana. This could happen again to communities along the pipeline routes,” said Greenpeace USA research lead Tim Donaghy, PhD.

Out of the 527 incidents registered, PHMSA reports that at least 67 spills contaminated water sources for the same period. That number represents more than four such incidents on average each year since 2002.

“Water is a basic human right and the source of life everywhere. No pipeline should ever be allowed to put the water supply of a community at risk. And yet, the record clearly indicates that Energy Transfer Partners is a serial water polluter. No waterway is safe from contamination where they operate existing pipelines and construct new ones. Construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline represents a high risk to hundreds of waterways across the entire state of Louisiana. Extrapolation of their abominable spill history indicates that Bayou Bridge pipeline would cause multiple spills during construction and at least eight significant spills during its first five decades. Any spill there will disproportionately harm waterways since the pipeline will be constructed in, under, and through so many rivers, bayous, swamps, and wetlands,” said Waterkeeper Alliance Clean & Safe Energy Campaign Manager Donna Lisenby.

“We’re not happy with Bayou Bridge because we know that Energy Transfer Partners is accident prone. We fear that something will happen in Saint James – it’s just a matter of time because of ETP’s history. The company has had problems. We don’t want ETP here,” said President of the HELP Association of Saint James Pastor Harry Joseph. Saint James, Louisiana is the proposed endpoint of the Bayou Bridge pipeline.

The 527 hazardous liquids spills from the existing Energy Transfer Partners’ pipeline network have also caused an estimated $115 million in property damage. There is no failsafe way to transport fossil fuels and pipeline spills remain a direct consequence of fossil fuel extraction. Rapid transition to renewable energy is an imperative to dramatically reduce spills from pipelines and pollution of water sources.

The ‘Oil and Water: ETP & Sunoco’s History of Pipeline Spills’ has been endorsed by several organizations that are working to protect the land, water and rights of communities impacted by pipeline construction across the country, including New Orleans, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Big Bend Defense Coalition of West Texas, Earthworks, HELP Association of Saint James, Indigenous Peoples Power Project, International Indigenous Youth Council, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association – West, Michigan Residents Against ET Rover, NDN Collective, Oil Change International, Pipeline Safety Coalition, Rainforest Action Network, Seeding Sovereignty, Standing Rock Community Development Corporation, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, and West Virginia Headwaters Waterkeeper.

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United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit

Groups Blast EPA Over Proposal to Hand Over Regulation of Coal Ash to State Agency

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National and local Oklahoma environmental and conservation groups jointly submitted public comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explaining why EPA’s proposed approval of an Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) program to assume regulation of state coal ash (CCR) dumps from the EPA is ill-advised. If the approval is finalized, the federal coal ash rule currently in effect in Oklahoma will no longer apply to the state’s dumps.

In January, EPA proposed granting approval to Oklahoma’s coal ash program, which issues permanent disposal grants permits to coal ash landfills and impoundments (ponds). Coal ash waste carries high levels of toxic heavy metals and other contaminants found in other regulated wastes that are typically given only limited-term permits.

If approved by EPA, Oklahoma’s rules would allow coal ash landfills and retainer ponds to have permits that last “for life.” Unlike permits for hazardous waste landfills, air pollution, and wastewater discharges, these state coal ash permits would never terminate. Under the Oklahoma program, the status of these coal ash dumps would no longer be reported, depriving the public of critical information on the safety of their operations and potential groundwater pollution. It would also remove the possibility of challenging the renewal of permits for sites found to be dangerous.

DEQ’s failure to protect Oklahoma communities against coal ash pollution is demonstrated by historic, documented contamination of groundwater and air quality at sites that include: American Electric Power’s Northeastern coal plant in Oologah, Grand River Dam Authority’s Grand River Energy Center coal plant near Choteau, Western Farmers’ Electric Cooperative’s Hugo coal plant in Choctaw County, Big Fork Ranch coal ash landfill in Noble County, and the large coal ash dump in Bokoshe filled with ash waste generated by AES’s Shady Point plant.

Earl Hatley, Grand Riverkeeper and LEAD Agency, Inc. commented, “Nearly all of these companies have already violated the state’s coal ash rule by failing to report results from groundwater monitoring, or failing to test groundwater for all the required pollutants. The state has shown its favoritism for industry by letting these lapses go unchecked and giving industry all the cheating tools they need.”

Conditions in Oklahoma create serious risks of even greater harm from coal ash dumps. Nearly all of Oklahoma’s ash pits and landfill units are next to our rivers and lakes. Nearly all of these existing units are known to have contaminated groundwater with toxic substances, including high levels of arsenic. Earthquakes frequently shake the land and may further destabilize these ash dumps.

“The Department isn’t even trying to hide the fact that this is a gift to industry and a slap in the face to the people of Oklahoma,” said Johnson Bridgwater, Executive Director of the OK Sierra Club Chapter. “At the Environmental Quality Board meeting when the CCR rule was approved, DEQ shamelessly stated that it intended the rule to protect industry from citizen suits.”

“DEQ plans to regulate new and existing coal ash dumps, which are already known to be polluting groundwater, behind closed doors,” said Jennifer Cassel, Earthjustice Coal Ash Project Attorney who helped prepare the comments, “This is a clear violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).”

The groups commenting include Grand Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Tar Creekkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and Earthjustice. The comments asked that the EPA not hand-off oversight of coal ash dumps to DEQ — at least until Oklahoma provides real, substantive evidence that it will hold polluters accountable, ensures that appropriate protections are put in place at coal ash dumps, and offers meaningful opportunity to the public to weigh in on whether the state’s ash dumps are complying with the required standards.

“Because Oklahoma is the first state seeking approval of its coal ash regulatory program under EPA’s CCR Rule, it is reasonable to expect that other states will take cues from EPA’s response to Oklahoma’s proposal,” explained Larissa Liebmann, Staff Attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. “This makes it vitally important that EPA gets this right, and we are gravely concerned with several aspects of Oklahoma’s proposal that EPA must correct before the program is approved and serves as a template for other states.”

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Pollution Report shows significant danger posed by coal ash in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta

Mobile Baykeeper’s detailed investigation report highlights coal ash pollution and dam safety concerns at Alabama Power’s Plant Barry

Mobile Baykeeper has released an in-depth pollution report showing significant threats posed by coal ash stored at Alabama Power’s Plant Barry, a 600-acre coal ash pond located adjacent to the Mobile River in the heart of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. The report highlights two primary issues at Plant Barry: 1) ongoing water pollution, and 2) the potential threat for a dam failure to occur and spill massive amounts of coal ash into the Delta and eventually downstream to Mobile Bay.

According to Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director Casi (kc) Callaway, results found in this report confirm what Baykeeper suspected when the investigation began in 2015. “We’ve been investigating this issue for almost three years now. Our findings demonstrate that Alabama Power’s coal ash is polluting our groundwater and the dam at Plant Barry is unsafe to store this toxic material – threatening our health and ability to swim, fish, work and play in our treasured Coastal Alabama waterways,” she said.

The above image shows surface water sampling results taken by Mobile Baykeeper staff on November 5, 2015.

At this facility, more than 21 million tons of toxic coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal for electricity, sits in an unlined pond with no protective barrier to groundwater. Mobile Baykeeper’s test results over the past two years repeatedly indicate ongoing and illegal pollution showing significant levels of arsenic, selenium, lead, and other heavy metals. These findings were confirmed by Alabama Power’s own groundwater monitoring results, which resulted in a $1.25 million fine by ADEM for pollution violations at all six of its plants across the state, including $250,000 for violations specifically at Plant Barry.

In addition to the ongoing pollution, the facility’s location makes the situation even more dangerous. The pond is surrounded by the Mobile River and sensitive wetlands in a low-lying area prone to flooding. In addition, it is held together by a dam made of dirt, clay, and coal ash – making it susceptible to collapse from the effects of a hurricane, heavy rain, or structural failure.

High Water Levels at Plant Barry

Water Levels Approaching Sides of Dam

Findings from a dam safety expert contracted by Mobile Baykeeper revealed that the safety assessment conducted by the facility was inadequate and illustrated a “razor-thin margin of error” to determine flood risks. Other areas in the country have endured the catastrophic effects of dam failures in the past. The 2008 TVA disaster in Kingston, Tenn. spilled more than one billion tons of coal ash into nearby waterways and has cost an estimated $1.2 billion to clean up over 10 years.

“The worst case scenario would be a breach of the dam at Plant Barry,” said Callaway. “Imagine another BP Oil Disaster, but with 20 times the amount of oil that was spilled into the Gulf instead spilling into the Delta and eventually downstream through the port of Mobile and Mobile Bay. The impacts would be catastrophic.”

The evidence contained in this report shows that Alabama Power’s preliminary decision to leave the coal ash in the pond at Plant Barry and “cap in place” is not a viable solution and threatens the way of life for citizens of Coastal Alabama. As a result, Mobile Baykeeper urges them to choose the alternative and remove it.

“Alabama Power needs to be a leader on this issue and do the right thing. The only safe option to protect the health of our environment, economy, and community is to dig up the coal ash and move it away from the river to a lined, upland landfill.”

To read the detailed investigation report in full, please click here. To learn more about Mobile Baykeeper’s work on coal ash, visit or call 251-433-4229.

Take Action

Contact Alabama Power officials and let them know you think they should dig up the coal ash and move it away from the Mobile River. Send our pre-drafted letter below or write one of your own. 

To learn more about this issue and let Alabama Power know that leaving the coal ash in place is unacceptable, please visit

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United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit

Wabash Riverkeeper calls upon Marathon to study long-term impacts of diesel pollution

Another pipeline spill dumps approximately 42,000 gallons of fuel into Big Creek, tributary of the Wabash River

Wabash Riverkeeper Dr. Rae Schnapp is investigating a fuel spill from a pipeline owned by Marathon Pipe Line LLC crossing Big Creek near Solitude, Indiana. Marathon was first alerted to a breach in their Mount Vernon diesel pipeline Tuesday evening around 6:30 p.m. and crews responded to shut off the pipeline and set up boom sites to try to trap the fuel, according to the local Sheriff, Greg Oeth.

Marathon reports that approximately 42,000 gallons (or 1,000 barrels) of fuel entered Big Creek, which is a tributary of the Wabash River. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has been the agency on the scene working on containment and removal. A company spokesman assured that the spill never reached the Wabash River.

Crews using several booms to contain the fuel on Big Creek at the site of the break 3.21.18. Photo Credit: BlairPhotoEVV

This is not Marathon’s first offense — it is their second major pipeline breach in 2 years,” Wabash Riverkeeper Dr. Rae Schnapp said. “On April 17, 2016, Marathon’s Two Rivers Pipeline released over 48,000 gallons of diesel into the Wabash and Ohio rivers, and it took nearly two and half days for the company to confirm that their pipeline was the source of the diesel spill. They need to do a better job of pipeline maintenance and they need to be held accountable for this pollution.”

Schnapp adds, “When the immediate crisis was over in 2016, Marathon reported that there was no impact on wildlife, but diesel fuel is toxic and no one is studying the long-term impact of these spills on the aquatic community. Wabash Riverkeeper would like to see Marathon fund such a study.”

According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, since 2006, Marathon has been responsible for 124 incidents, causing one fatality and three injuries, incurring over $96 million in property damage, and spilling over 20,000 barrels of fuel. These incidents include a 2011 spill of 378,000 gallons of gasoline, which registered as one of the twenty largest onshore oil and gas spills in the U.S. between 2010 and 2017.

“Marathon is certainly no stranger to fuel spills and accidents,” said Bart Mihailovich, Waterkeeper Alliance’s Senior Organizer for the Eastern U.S. “Like too many other pipeline companies, their carelessness and neglect is causing harm to waterways and communities along their pipeline routes.”

“Oil and diesel fuels contain a mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that can be toxic to aquatic organisms,” said Maria Sepúlveda, Professor of Aquatic Toxicology at Purdue University, who has been studying the impact of PAHs on fish early life stages since 2012. They affect normal embryo development and negatively impact growth and reproduction. These effects are particularly problematic in fish as many studies have shown PAHs are toxic to the heart.”

For more information about Marathon’s long history of spills, injuries and property damage, please see this Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration dataset.

For information on the aquatic impacts of fuel spills, contact Marisol Sepulveda, Ecotoxicologist for Purdue University, at 765-496-3428.

About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit

Appeals Court Panel allows Bayou Bridge pipeline construction to resume while legal appeals proceeds

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In 2-1 ruling, court lifts preliminary injunction and expedites appeal schedule

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today granted a motion for stay filed by the company constructing the proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline across the Atchafalaya Basin. The motion, filed by Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, effectively asked the Court to allow construction in the Basin to resume.

Today’s decision temporarily suspends U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick’s ruling late last month, granting a preliminary injunction to halt construction on the portion of the pipeline that crosses the Basin. Judge Dick granted the injunction to prevent ongoing irreparable harm to this ecological treasure while a lawsuit, filed Jan. 11, is being heard. The Court allowed construction to proceed while the company, Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, appeals the injunction ruling.

One of the three judges filed a dissent, stating that he agreed with the District Court that the Army Corps had violated the law in issuing the permits.

“Today’s ruling is a setback but it’s not the end of this fight,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney from Earthjustice representing plaintiffs in this matter. “We will keep fighting in court to protect the Atchafalaya Basin and demand that oil and gas companies such as Energy Transfer Partners finally be held accountable for decades of carelessness, incompetence and greed.”

Judge Dick found that a lawsuit filed by several groups — Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association (West), Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club, represented by lawyers with Earthjustice – was likely to succeed, and that construction of the 162-mile pipeline would cause grave ecological damage to the Atchafalaya Basin.

The injunction blocked construction in the Basin that threatened ancient cypress and tupelo trees in the path of the pipeline that serve as critical habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife. In addition, construction of the pipeline decreases natural flood protection in the basin, which protects millions of people in coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River valley from Mississippi flood waters, particularly when waters are rising, as has been the case for the past few weeks. As the plaintiffs explained to the Court, construction could not lawfully commence in many portions of the pipeline due to dangerous high water conditions.

“Opening trenches during high water periods is reckless. The Atchafalaya Basin is both critical for our nation’s migratory birds and for flood protection for millions of people. Those trenches will allow river water full of sediments to fill swamps lakes and bayous,” said Dean Wilson, executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. “Decades of unrestricted oil and pipeline development and lack of enforcement had already devastated the Basin making all of us more at risk from devastating river floods.”

The Bayou Bridge pipeline project proposes to connect the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, which transports volatile and explosive Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in St. James Parish and export terminals, forming the southern leg of the Bakken Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), which owns the Dakota Access Pipeline and is a joint owner in the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, has one of the worst safety and compliance records in the industry.

“In the first 11 weeks of 2018, ETP has been hit with 36 violations and $12.8 million in proposed fines by federal and state regulators for their repeated failures to comply with regulations and laws designed to prevent spills, explosions, fires, loss of life and to ensure the public safety of their oil and gas operations and pipeline construction operations in multiple states,” said Donna Lisenby with Waterkeeper Alliance. “We will continue fighting to hold this reckless company accountable for its weekly acts of water pollution and harm to communities.”

“The Bayou Bridge pipeline would pose an unacceptable risk to the wetlands, water, and communities along its route, and should never be built,” said Julie Rosenzweig, director of Sierra Club Delta Chapter. “Allowing a company with as egregious a track record as Energy Transfer Partners to move forward with construction in spite of ongoing legal challenges is unconscionable. We will continue making our case against this dirty, dangerous pipeline.”

About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit

Groundwater Monitoring Reveals Widespread Radioactivity at Duke Energy Coal Plants​

Data shows high levels of radioactivity at 11 of 18 plants

Today is the deadline for coal-fired power plants to post the results of their groundwater monitoring under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 rule regulating the storage and disposal of coal ash. EPA required such monitoring to determine the extent to which coal ash impoundments and landfills were contaminating groundwater. The results confirm the widespread groundwater contamination caused by coal ash around the country. In particular, Duke Energy’s results reveal startlingly high levels of radioactivity at 11 out of 18 plants.

Contrary to industry practices, Duke Energy did not summarize its groundwater monitoring results in a table, instead burying results in more than 20,000 pages of lab results. Earthjustice Senior Attorney Lisa Evans took a closer look at the data, and found what Duke Energy might have been trying to hide: high levels of radioactivity at a majority of its plants.

“The way Duke Energy presented its data showed a clear intent to obscure the findings,” said Lisa Evans. “Despite Duke’s efforts, we found that the data reveal levels of radium in groundwater that far exceed EPA’s drinking water standards and that could clearly harm people who use this water for drinking.”

This level of contamination is even more concerning considering that EPA’s standard for radioactivity in drinking water, written in 1976, is considered outdated and not as protective as needed. California has released public health goals for radioactive elements in drinking water that are about a hundred times more stringent than EPA’s standard. The Environmental Working Group recently released a study finding that the drinking water of more than 170 million Americans is radioactive enough to increase the risk of cancer.

Levels of radioactivity from radium at the Marshall coal-fired power plant on Lake Norman were 2.5 times the federal drinking water standard. Thallium levels at Marshall also exceeded federal standards and were 18 times higher than the North Carolina groundwater standard. Ash ponds at Marshall are still leaking into surface water and groundwater upstream of drinking water intakes for more than 1 million people in the Charlotte region. Together, these alarming results mean that Marshall ash facilities are much more polluted than previously disclosed. Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, noted, “This is yet another extremely concerning case of new information about Duke discharging dangerous pollutants from its property. Given Duke’s criminal history and ongoing probation, I am alarmed that Duke has failed to learn from its past mistakes. Duke must take ownership of its problems and not stop hiding this information from their neighbors and the millions of people who depend on the Catawba River for drinking water.

The highest levels of radioactivity were found at Duke Energy’s Asheville Power Plant, with levels of radium in groundwater 38 times what EPA considers safe for drinking water. “These results confirm that we were right to force Duke Energy to commit to removing the coal ash from the leaking ash ponds at their Asheville site,” said Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper. “We need to ensure that Duke’s clean up of the site stops the release of dangerous pollutants to our groundwater.”

In addition to the alarming levels of radioactivity from radium, the results demonstrate that Duke Energy is contaminating groundwater with arsenic, lead, and a host of other toxic pollutants. “Despite the clear evidence that coal-fired power plants such as those owned by Duke Energy are endangering lives with their pollution, Scott Pruitt’s EPA continues its misguided effort to eliminate even the bare minimum standards,” said Larissa Liebmann, Staff Attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Just last night, EPA released revisions showing its intent to cripple the very rule that requires this sampling and the release of these data.”

About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit

Trump Administration Guts Safeguards For Nation’s No. 2 Toxic Pollution Threat

Coal ash waste linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, brain damage

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided yesterday afternoon that it will gut the critical protections afforded by the first-ever federal rule that provides health and environmental safeguards for communities near toxic coal ash waste dumps.

Hundreds of contaminated sites and spills have been documented among the 1,400+ coal ash waste dumps across the country. See map by Earthjustice.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposed rule is a thorough overhaul of the 2015 coal ash rule. The proposed rule will substantially weaken the nation’s environmental safeguards for coal ash, which is the toxic waste left over from coal-burning power plants. For decades, coal ash was dumped into giant pits, where toxic chemicals can seep into water and soil and blow into the air. Coal ash waste is filled with some of some of the deadliest known toxic chemicals, including heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury, and chromium. The toxics raise the risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke, and can inflict permanent brain damage on children.

“This is the second biggest toxic pollution threat in our country, and we need to clean it up—not make things easier for polluters,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. “People living near more than a thousand toxic coal ash sites are at risk. They face contaminated drinking water, toxic dust in the air, and serious health threats just because the EPA is choosing to side with polluters over the public.”

In October 2015, the first-ever EPA safeguards to protect communities near coal ash dumps went into effect after Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of public interest groups and a Native American tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes. The EPA received more than a half-million comments from people supporting the safeguards that the EPA is seeking now to remove in its proposed rule.

“The list of environmental protections the Pruitt EPA is attempting to roll back continues to grow, this time with a proposal to weaken the first-ever federal coal ash rule,” said Lisa Hallowell, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “Despite mounting evidence of pollution at coal ash sites, EPA—which is supposed to be protecting the environment—wants to reduce safeguards, and make it harder for citizens to get polluted sites cleaned up.”

Among the protections of the coal ash rule that the EPA proposes to weaken or remove are: groundwater monitoring requirements, national groundwater protection standards, cleanup standards, closure standards, location restrictions for siting toxic dumps in groundwater, wetlands, floodplains, fault areas, seismic zones and unstable areas, as well as deadlines to comply with those standards. Recent petitions by the utility industry asked for broad weakening of health and environmental standards, which the EPA has proposed to adopt. The rule seeks to provide States, EPA and even the industry itself, with discretion to weaken core requirements of the 2015 rule that protect the nation’s drinking water aquifers, including determining when or if groundwater monitoring is necessary, when cleanup of contaminated groundwater is required, the extent of a groundwater cleanup, and how long a polluter is required to monitor a closed site.

“The Trump administration is putting drinking water and the health of communities across the country at risk so their friends in the power plant industry can save a few bucks,” said Jennifer Peters, Clean Water Action’s Water Program Director. “The coal ash rule is a very modest protection. Gutting it now will let coal plants avoid any responsibility for their waste, leave taxpayers on the hook for clean up, and lead to more contaminated water.”

The standards for coal ash management are the subject of litigation at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Lawsuits were brought against EPA in 2015 by both environmental groups and industry trade groups. The Court heard oral arguments in the case in October 2017.

“Pressure from industry resulted in EPA’s 2015 standards falling woefully short of truly protecting the public from the dangers of coal ash,” said Larissa Liebmann, Staff Attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Now, the Trump Administration is trying to pare back what already was the bare minimum.”

Graphic by Earthjustice. Harm to human health from breathing and ingesting coal ash toxicants. See full infographic.

Among other things, the EPA’s 2015 coal ash rule required utilities to test the water near their coal ash dumps to make sure hazardous chemicals, like arsenic, lead, chromium and other toxins were not leaking into drinking water sources. Coal ash contains concentrated levels of heavy metals, which are released to water when the ash is dumped into unlined pits. Requirements to monitor the water around dump sites—and to clean it up, if poisoned—were set to go into effect at all coal ash dumpsites in 2018.

The EPA’s action comes in response to petitions filed by the Utilities Solid Waste Activities Group, a trade organization that has long fought against the common-sense pollution protections for coal ash dumps, and by AES-PR, which operates a coal-fired power plant in Puerto Rico. Today, over 1,400 coal ash waste dumps are spread across the nation, and in at least 200 cases, the toxic waste is known to have contaminated water sources.

“Clean water is a basic human right that should never be treated as collateral damage on a corporate a balance sheet, but that is exactly what is happening,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “The Trump administration is trying to pull the wool over the America people’s eyes about the dangers of gutting our clean water protections against coal ash so that rich coal magnates will not have to pay to properly dispose of their toxic byproduct. Weakening protections against coal ash is a betrayal of all the families across this country who having been living on bottled water for years, or have lost their health and property, due to coal ash pollution. Families are looking to EPA to solve the coal ash problem—not abandon them, which is what happened today.”

About 70 percent of the toxic coal ash dumps are located in low-income areas. The impact on communities throughout the nation is immense. For example, the EPA’s action will affect communities in Puerto Rico—already struggling with devastation from hurricanes.

“By weakening the coal ash cleanup rule, Puerto Ricans will be exposed to ever greater health hazards,” said Ruth Santiago, Attorney for Comite Diálogo Ambiental. “Without this rule, the AES coal-burning power plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico will not be required to monitor groundwater underneath the coal ash waste pile that has hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic waste in it—all exposed to the elements. Our environmental regulators are supposed to protect us, not make things worse.”

Federal protections are critical, because the dumps are ticking time bombs, and the states have demonstrated that they are unable or unwilling to impose protective standards on coal ash dumps. In 2008, the single-largest toxic waste spill in U.S. history happened when a billion gallons of coal ash sludge burst through a dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston plant and covered 300 acres, destroying dozens of homes. In 2014, a portion of a coal ash dump in North Carolina collapsed, fouling 80 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge.

“The national coal ash rule already has a blind spot for closed power plants like the Vermilion Power Station in Illinois, which is oozing colored coal ash waste into the Middle Fork River, where people tube and kayak,” said Andrew Rehn of the Prairie Rivers Network. “The EPA’s decision to further weaken these regulations is a disservice to the people of Illinois and the rest of the country.” Dana Wright, Interim Executive Director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, added: “Tennesseans and residents of other states need protections from coal ash waste. The administration’s reversal impairs water quality and threatens human health.”

About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit

Federal judge blocks construction of Bayou Bridge pipeline

Pipeline construction would “irreparably harm” Atchafalaya Basin

BATON ROUGE, LA – Federal District Court Judge Shelly Dick halted the construction of the controversial Bayou Bridge pipeline across the Atchafalaya Basin. Today’s decision grants a preliminary injunction to prevent ongoing irreparable harm to this ecological treasure while a lawsuit, filed Jan. 11, is being heard.

Judge Dick found that the lawsuit filed by several groups — Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association (West), Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club, represented by lawyers with Earthjustice – raises serious concerns and that the 162-mile pipeline would irreparably harm the Atchafalaya Basin.

The groups recently presented live testimony during a hearing showing that the ancient cypress and tupelo trees slated to be turned into mulch while the pipeline right-of-way is being cleared would never return, including evidence that these old-growth trees are the Noah’s Ark of the swamp – providing habitat for migratory birds, bears, bats and numerous other wildlife.

In addition, the groups showed that pipeline construction would further degrade nearby fishing grounds that local commercial crawfishers rely on for their livelihood.

“The court’s ruling recognizes the serious threat this pipeline poses to the Atchafalaya Basin, one of our country’s ecological and cultural crown jewels,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney from Earthjustice representing plaintiffs in this matter.  “For now, at least, the Atchafalaya is safe from this company’s incompetence and greed.”

Jody Meche, a third-generation commercial crawfisher and president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, testified about how the Bayou Bridge pipeline would make existing problems worse – problems created by the irresponsible behavior of oil and gas companies during construction to previous pipelines in the basin.

These problems include hypoxic water conditions that kill crawfish, eliminating harvests in areas of the Basin, the safety of local communities and the survival of Cajun culture.

“We fight the fight for years, telling our story, raising public awareness about the issues we have in the Atchafalaya Basin,” Meche said. “It felt great to finally be able to tell my story in a courtroom.”

“After years of witnessing the systematic destruction of the Basin with impunity by these companies, while our government turns a blind eye, it felt good to finally tell our story to a person with the power to make a difference,” Dean Wilson, executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper said.

The groups also raised concerns about the fact that construction of the pipeline would decrease natural flood protection in the basin, which acts as the major floodway project that protects millions of people in coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River valley from Mississippi flood waters.

The Bayou Bridge pipeline project proposes to connect the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, which transports volatile and explosive Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in St. James Parish and export terminals, forming the southern leg of the Bakken Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), which owns the Dakota Access Pipeline and is a joint owner in the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, has one of the worst safety and compliance records in the industry.

Federal data shows that Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary Sunoco Inc. have been responsible for hundreds of significant pipeline incidents across the country in the last decade.

Last week, Sunoco was fined a record $12.6 million by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for violations incurred during the construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline.

The court ordered BBP to halt construction, citing the need to prevent further irreparable harm until the matter can be tried on the merits. The judge said the court would provide a more detailed opinion at a later date.

Additional reaction from plaintiff groups:

“ETP has a horrible track record that keeps getting worse every day,” said Donna Lisenby, Clean and Safe Energy Campaign Manager at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Waterkeeper Alliance is very grateful and relieved that a despicably horrible and incorrigible repeat offender has been temporarily stopped by the courts from damaging water, land, and wildlife in Louisiana.”

“We have no time to lose,” said Scott Eustis, Gulf Restoration Network. “The sand stolen by these rights-of-way must flow to the coast—the sand cannot be spent filling our swamps. Once those swamps are filled, there’s no fish, and the vines cover the trees, so no birds. It’s over.”

“The Bayou Bridge pipeline would pose an unacceptable risk to the wetlands, water, and communities along its route, and should never be built. It is a relief that the court has granted this injunction so we can make our case against this dirty, dangerous pipeline, and we will continue to fight until it is stopped for good,” said Julie Rosenzweig, Sierra Club Delta Chapter Director.

Feature Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

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Lawsuit Launched to Protect Endangered Species From Trump Administration’s Rollback of Clean Water Protections

Conservation groups filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to consider harm to endangered species when adopting a rule that delays the effective date for the 2015 Clean Water Rule. That rule redefined which waterways are protected under the federal Clean Water Act.

The two-year delay is the first of several steps the federal agencies are taking to carry out a 2017 executive order by President Trump that would slash protections for wetlands, creeks and rivers across the nation. The EPA and Army Corps are rushing to comply with the order without considering harm to water quality or endangered species.

“It is clear EPA and the Corps are determined to reduce or eliminate Clean Water Act protections for the majority of our nation’s waters, and they are attempting to do that without legal authority and without complying with the nation’s most basic environmental laws,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, a Waterkeeper Alliance senior attorney.

Among the waters likely to lose protection against pollution and destruction under the agencies’ Feb. 6 delay rule are wetlands such as vernal pools in California, prairie potholes in the upper Midwest and coastal pocosins that provide vital habitat for imperiled species.

“Every day the Trump administration blocks protections for these wetlands is another day that polluters are allowed to drive birds, fish and other animals closer to extinction,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We just can’t let that happen.”

At the time the 2015 Clean Water Rule was adopted, the conservation groups involved in today’s legal action challenged it for creating illegal exemptions for industry and failing to protect important waterways and endangered species. But the groups say the two-year delay of the rule compounds those problems by further reducing the number and types of protected waters in violation of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other federal laws.

“Instead of resolving the debate, delay grants a giant green light for Big Ag to continue dumping agricultural pollutants on our food and in our environment,” said Adam Keats, a senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “We need to strengthen, not gut, the laws that keep industrial agricultural pollution in check, and the time to do that is now, not two years from now.”

The 2015 rule is one of many environmental rules identified by the Trump EPA for elimination. The agency has also slowed its enforcement of federal pollution laws, including the Clean Water Act.    

“We will do everything in our power to stop the Trump administration from allowing industrial polluters to turn our waterways into sewers, threatening endangered species and human health,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Today’s notice of intent was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Humboldt Baykeeper (a program of the Northcoast Environmental Center), Russian Riverkeeper, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper and Monterey Coastkeeper (a program of the Otter Project). It demands that the agencies come into compliance with the Endangered Species Act before proposing a rule to delay the 2015 Clean Water Rule. 

The groups filing today’s notice of intent are represented by Earthrise Law Center, the environmental legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School.

California vernal pool by Joanna Gilkeson, USFWS. Images are available for media use.

About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit

Oklahoma DEQ’s Toxic Coal Ash Plan Threatens Public

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U.S. EPA to Hold Feb 13 Hearing on Proposal to Replace Federal Requirements

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold a public hearing on a federal proposal to approve the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s (ODEQ) deficient rules on coal ash pollution on Tuesday, Feb. 13, beginning at 9 am (CST) at the ODEQ building located at 707 N. Robinson Ave., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The EPA adopted national regulations for the operation and design of coal ash dumps in 2015. In 2016, Congress passed a law allowing states to adopt their own rules for coal ash dumps as long as those rules are “at least as protective” as the EPA’s. ODEQ is proposing to take over regulation of coal ash disposal from the EPA, and the EPA must decide whether to approve ODEQ’s rules.  

For decades, companies dumped coal ash – the waste that is left over at coal-burning power plants – in ponds and landfills. These coal ash ponds and landfills often lack liners to prevent contaminants from leaking out, and also are often sited near waterways. Coal ash contains toxic substances known to cause cancer and other human health risks, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, selenium, thallium, and hexavalent chromium. When utilities store and dispose of coal ash without proper safeguards, these hazardous chemicals can enter the air, groundwater, surface water and soil, poisoning nearby communities and waterways.

“This is our groundwater and health at stake,” said Johnson Bridgwater, Director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We cannot let these companies walk away from their responsibility to safely manage and clean up pollution at coal ash disposal sites.”

For example, in Oklahoma, one coal ash disposal site is located on the banks of the Verdigris River below Oologah Lake and another is located along the banks of the Grand River near Chouteau. Groundwater testing at these sites – AEP/PSO’s Northeastern Power Station and the GRDA’s Grand River Energy Center – shows that those sites have been releasing toxic contamination into nearby groundwater for years.

“We are already seeing coal ash sites in Oklahoma causing contamination,” said Earl Hatley, the Grand Riverkeeper. “On the banks of the Grand River, we have one site with elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater.”

The coal ash dumped in abandoned mines in Bokoshe has caused severe pollution in the community. However, ODEQ’s rules do nothing to address this issue, as they mirror the federal rules in giving an exemption for coal ash that is stored in abandoned mines.

In 2016, at the behest of industry seeking to avoid third-party lawsuits, ODEQ created a set of rules on permitting coal ash ponds and landfills to replace the federal requirements. The rules limit the public’s right to have a say in whether coal ash sites meet the regulatory requirements, and, in some cases, even prevent the public from challenging flawed permits. More specifically, it appears that the public has no opportunity to comment on permits for existing coal ash landfills and little chance to comment on permits for existing coal ash ponds. For existing coal ash sites, the public is not allowed to challenge permits issued by ODEQ – even if they have inadequate protections.

“ODEQ’s new coal ash permitting rules significantly limit the public’s right to know about and meaningfully participate in regulatory actions at these sites, even when a proposed action would endanger their health or pollute our state’s waters,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, Senior Attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance.

Under the rules, coal ash operators are required to submit plans for how ash dump operators will monitor groundwater for dangerous pollutants, how they will safely close the dumps, and how they will make sure coal ash pollution is not escaping from a dump. However, ODEQ’s rules do not require the state to meaningfully oversee these plans, and severely limit public input and review of them.

“These plans could have significant impacts on people’s health and the environment – coal ash operators must be held accountable to make sure they are taking responsible action to minimize risk,” said Rebecca Jim, the Tar Creekkeeper.

Permits issued under these rules would also be “for life,” which means that the public will likely have very limited chances to weigh in on industry plans to monitor groundwater, remedy contamination, or close ash sites.

“Laws protecting against air pollution and pollution of rivers and streams don’t allow forever permits,” said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Cassel. “It makes no sense for our groundwater – often the very water we drink – to receive any less protection.”

About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit