Clean and Safe Energy


“Wherever you find coal, you will find a subversion of democracy.” – Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President, Waterkeeper Alliance      

The irresponsible disposal of the wastes generated by the fossil fuel industry during combustion can have long-lasting environmental impacts on waterways. This problem is most prominent in the case of coal ash, which has high concentrations of toxics and heavy metals and has traditionally been stored in massive unlined pits. This has lead to coal ash disposal sites contaminating waterways and groundwater around the world. Coal-fired power plants—and particularly their coal ash waste—are the largest source of toxic water pollution in the United States.

Waterkeeper Alliance fights the impacts of fossil fuel waste by:

(1) Joining Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates in opposing new fossil fuel plants;
(2) Advocating for stronger regulations on coal ash disposal practices and discharge limits; and,
(3) Investigating water pollution from coal-fired power plants and bringing lawsuits to force polluters to remediate the contamination.

Opposing New Plants

Shifting investment from coal to renewable energy is vital for climate stability, clean water, human health and food security. According to World Resource Institute’s Global Coal Risk Assessment, 1,199 new coal-fired plants were being proposed globally as of 2012.  New coal plants, mines, and transport facilities are being proposed predominantly in countries on the Asian, African, South American, and Australian continents. If these new facilities are built, they will substantially increase carbon pollution beyond the threshold that triggers runaway climate change. They will also consume and pollute millions of liters of fresh water. Waterkeeper Alliance is working to stop construction and financing of these facilities in Senegal, Norway, Bangladesh, Colombia, Vietnam, Australia and Indonesia.

Advocating for Stronger Regulations

Waterkeeper Alliance has been working with partners to advocate for stronger regulations on how coal ash can be stored and what pollutants coal-fired plants can release into waterways. We participated in the rulemaking process for the first-ever national rule governing the disposal of toxic coal ash as well as the first-ever national limits on the amount of dangerous heavy metals that these coal-fired power plants are allowed to discharge into waterways, and brought litigation to challenge weaknesses in these rules. As the Trump administration and Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seek to roll back these protections, Waterkeeper Alliance is fighting to stop the federal government from once again giving coal-fired power plants a free pass to pollute.

Stopping Pollution

Coal-fired power plants are the number one source of toxic water pollution in America. Waterkeeper Alliance has experience and expertise in investigating and stopping illegal water pollution from coal-fired power plants. Working with local Waterkeeper Organizations, we get on the water to document illegal water pollution. When polluters refuse to stop the pollution, we use laws like the Clean Water Act to bring them to justice and protect our waterways.

Together with local Waterkeeper Organizations and other partners, we documented illegal pollution leaking from coal ash ponds and filed a total of 14 enforcement actions against coal-fired power plant operators in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Our work in NC recently culminated in criminal charges against Duke Energy and resulted in the largest federal environmental penalty ever, $102 million. We have successfully secured commitments by Duke Energy, Gulf Power, Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas to clean up ash ponds at ten sites. Waterkeeper Alliance seeks to continue building upon our successful coal ash campaign work by securing cleanup of every leaking pond in the world.

Waterkeeper Alliance supports a global economic transition to a no-carbon future that utilizes clean and safe energy. Learn more about how to make your home more energy and water efficient.