Clean air advocates filed a legal challenge against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency late Monday for refusing to adopt air pollution standards to limit coal dust pollution from roads at coal preparation and processing plants.
Earthjustice, representing the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards is challenging revised air pollution standards that do not require coal preparation and processing plants to take any measures to limit the dangerous coal dust kicked up by trucks travelling on plant roads.
“While the EPA has declared carbon emissions as dangerous there is a little-known issue affecting people in Appalachia,” said Tim Ballo, attorney with Earthjustice. “Communities breathing in coal dust also contend with trucks that release these dangerous particles into the air. Even simple measures like washing trucks or wetting down roads to help clean up the air around these coal plants would help communities. Knowing what we know about how dangerous it is to inhale these particles we urge the EPA to revisit this standard and enforce policies that prioritize public health.”
Tim Bailey, of Clinchfield, Virginia, lives next door to a coal preparation and processing plant and sets aside four days a year to pressure wash coal dust from his home.
“Trucks from the prep plant kick up so much dust that a doctor has told me not to let my grandchildren play outside,” said Bailey, of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “The EPA needs to put a stop to this so that we can enjoy our homes again.”
Coal prep plants crush, sort, clean and dry coal to prepare it for combustion. Coal prep plants play a key role in both the coal mining and electric utility industry, as well as in other industries that rely heavily on coal for energy, such as cement and steel production. There are more than 250 coal prep plants in operation nationwide, with a high concentration of facilities found in the Appalachian coal fields where many communities are often in close proximity to the operations. EPA projects that the industry will experience significant growth in the next five years, with 22 new, modified, or reconstructed plants coming into existence. These plants are commonly located near mine sites and at facilities such as power plants.
Coal dust emissions from trucks transporting coal across roadways at coal prep plants are a significant source of pollutants that cause serious health problems. Every day, the hundreds of trucks servicing such plants track fine coal particles onto roads and then drive over them, kicking coal dust up into the air. Coal dust is an especially dangerous contaminant that contains traces of the same hazardous compounds that are released when coal is combusted, such as arsenic, mercury, and uranium.
“The ill-effects of breathing coal dust can and do impact communities as well as those employed in the mining industry,” said Willa Mays, Executive Director of Appalachian Voices. “Miners, truckers and other employees at prep plants are also endangered by breathing these air pollutants. The Clean Air Act requires that EPA and coal companies do more to protect the health of people from the harmful effects of coal dust.”
“The EPA has to address all sources of dust coming from these coal prep plants, including the significant amount of dust that comes from trucks and roads,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “By failing to provide limits on road dust, the EPA has not satisfied its duty to protect public health.”