The Environmental Impact of Deregulation By Peter Gaughan
Environmental deregulation is a key component of the Trump administration. One prominent example is the proposed elimination of 67 environmental regulations. As seen below, these policies include a range of issues pertaining to conservation, pollution restrictions, and combating climate change.
The justification for related deregulation is to minimize the impact of the federal government on business and enhancing private property rights. The primary concern is the impact on the environment, presently and in the future.
One relevant case study is the controversial rollback of an Obama-era pollution protection that prevented coal waste from being dumped into major waterways. This remains prohibited in large bodies of water, per The Clean Water Act of 1972.
In February; however, Congress passed a law, signed by the President, removing regulations inhibiting the dumping of coal into local streams. This means coal powered energy plants across the nation have the power to dump their waste into streams and waterways.
When coal is burned much of the pollution is caught by filters in the exhaust stacks lessening the intensity of air pollution. Still, coal burning leaves behind a toxic gray dust known as coal ash.
Coal ash cannot be cleaned up once leeched into water. This leeching sometimes occurs in groundwater because this ash is typically stored in ponds in ground. Deregulation increases the intensity and frequency of this form of pollution.
Coal ash is highly toxic and damaging for public health. It contains mercury, thallium, arsenic, and lead. Those who simply live nearby to dumb sites are at dramatically greater risk of cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, birth defects, lung disease, and many more grave medical conditions. Risks exponentially increase and allow for a wider exposure area when drinking water is directly polluted with these toxins.
The United States produces about 130 million tons of coal ash a year. Any exposure to coal ash from water can toxify the water and putting people at risk.
Coal ash also destroys ecosystems. For instance, lasting damage occurred after a 2008 spill of coal ash into the Tennessee River. There was an epidemic sized fish kill that still has yet to be overcome. The spill saw lead levels 400 times the EPA’s acceptable level and beryllium levels 160 times the EPA’s acceptable level downstream six months after the spill.
The Tennessee River still records higher pH levels (acidity in the water) that effect the ability of living things to survive and reproduce. The coal ash has also percolated into the river bed, causing a distribution in its geochemical makeup, and allowing toxins to leech into nearby ground water and closed off bodies of water.
This is an example of localized impact of a spill. Continuous dumping would constitute a steady flow of these toxins to be prevalent in ecosystems.
This is also just one instance of deregulation. As other protections are repealed, the consequences will produce similarly diverse and significant impacts on public health and the environment.
Peter J. Gaughan V is a research assistant at The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research and student of government and geoscience.