This story was updated at 1:16 p.m. EDT.
A coalition of environmental groups says U.S. EPA is 26 years tardy in limiting toxic metal discharges from coal-fired power plants and is threatening to sue the agency if it does produce the rules.
Existing federal rules do not limit releases of arsenic, mercury, selenium and lead, pollutants that can leach into local water supplies and contaminate waterways, the groups say. EPA's own data show coal plants release millions of pounds of such pollutants each year.
But while federal law requires EPA to review its power-plant discharge rules each year and decide whether to revise them, the agency has not issued a decision since 1982, according to a notice sent today to Administrator Lisa Jackson from the Environmental Integrity Project, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.
"The Clean Water Act says [EPA] should revisit these limits every year and make a decision," said Jennifer Peterson, an EIP attorney. "Instead, they're just reviewing them every year. There's been no decision, and EPA has proposed no rules to date to limit these discharges."
EPA in 2003 identified coal plants and similar operations as having a "relatively high estimate of potential hazard or risk" and said it would "continue investigating pollutant discharges" from the plants. In each of the following five years, the agency failed to issue a decision, saying it was still reviewing whether a rule was needed, according to the groups.
The groups today provided Jackson with 60-day notice of their intent to sue over the issue.
"Toxic discharges from power plants can threaten the health of local communities, contaminate ground and surface waters, and destroy aquatic life," said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of EIP. "EPA needs to stop kicking the can down the road and set a date for regulation. We are confident that Lisa Jackson will do the right thing."
The groups noted that these discharges can especially come from coal combustion residues (CCRs) like coal ash and slurry, warranting their own regulations.
EPA spokeswoman Deb Berlin said in an e-mail that "Administrator Jackson has committed to proposing a rule by the end of this calendar year. The agency is currently evaluating all available options for regulating CCRs and expects to propose a rule this year."
Click here to read the notice.