PEORIA, IL -- From a news release:
Sierra Club Statement on New EPA Coal Ash Protections
Illinois Residents Urge Financial Assurances from Polluters to Protect from Contamination, Disaster
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced the first-ever federal standards for the storage and disposal of coal ash aimed at protecting thousands of communities from the 140 million tons of ash pollution produced annually by America’s coal plants.
Coal ash, the toxic by-product that is left over after coal is burned, contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, selenium and other health threatening substances. The public health hazards and environmental threats to nearby communities from unsafe coal ash storage have been documented for decades, including increased risk of cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, birth defects, asthma, and other illnesses.
For years, environmental and public health organizations have called on the EPA and the Obama Administration to impose common-sense protections for retired and active coal ash sites that treat the disposal of this toxic waste stream with the same level of scrutiny as other dangerous substances.
“While EPA and the Obama Administration have taken a modest first step by introducing some protections on the disposal of coal ash, they do not go far enough to protect families from this toxic pollution,” said Holly Bender, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign.
“We welcome federal efforts on this issue, but we’re disappointed that the standard allows utilities to continue disposing of coal ash in ponds and does not incorporate strong federal enforcement. The standard still leaves people to largely fend for themselves against powerful utility interests that have historically ignored public health in favor of delayed action.
The state of Illinois has already issued several notices of violation to coal plant operators for coal ash contamination, and citizens groups like the Sierra Club are working to enforce a patchwork of state-specific coal ash standards. The EPA’s new rule will act as a starting point to give Illinois citizens more tools to protect their communities.”
There are over 90 coal ash pits across Illinois, and water contamination has been found at every site tested. Simply dumping toxic coal ash in these toxic ponds is an outdated and dangerous disposal method. Most of the ponds are unlined and were built in floodplains, on top of mines, and near rivers and lakes where they threaten Illinois’ water supply. The threat is also growing - more than 3.1 million tons of coal ash waste are produced in Illinois every year.
In Illinois, unique concerns about the cost of cleanup loom large for the state and its taxpayers. The state’s coal plant operators have a rocky financial history, creating serious concerns about their ability to pay for cleanup, either in the case of an accident or when the plant is replaced with cleaner energy sources.
“We know all too well that Illinois’ coal plant operators are not afraid to file for bankruptcy and walk away, potentially putting Illinois taxpayers on the hook for coal ash clean up.” Bender noted.
“The state must include in its final regulations a financial assurance provision to protect taxpayers and their drinking water by placing the financial obligation for coal ash dump cleanup squarely on polluters like NRG and Dynegy, so the public doesn’t get stuck with the bill for a disaster.”
Overview of major coal ash polluters in Illinois:
NRG Energy: NRG Energy dumps coal ash waste in 11 ponds across the state of Illinois, concentrated in the northern and central regions of the state. Most notably, NRG’s Waukegan coal plant discharges coal ash into ponds that sit on the shores of Lake Michigan, and monitoring wells show significant infiltration of coal ash pollutants in the water below the ponds. In 2012 the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued notices of violation for groundwater exceedances of dangerous pollutants at the coal ash ponds at all four of the company’s Illinois coal plants. NRG purchased coal plants from bankrupt Midwest Generation, and has thus far made no financial commitments to the communities that live with this coal ash pollution on a daily basis.
Dynegy: Dynegy has coal ash waste in 41 ponds across the state of Illinois, concentrated in the central and southern regions of the state. Several Dynegy ponds sit dangerously close to wildlife and recreation areas along the Illinois River and the Middle Fork Vermilion River, Illinois' only National Scenic River. Dynegy’s subsidiary, Illinois Power Holdings, was purposefully underfunded and has no capital reserves earmarked for coal ash cleanup.
- The Edwards coal ash pond at Bartonville.
City Water, Light & Power Springfield: CWLP dumps coal ash waste adjacent to Sugar Creek, which flows into the Sangamon River. In 2010, EPA found arsenic contamination in groundwater at CWLP’s ash ponds at levels nine times the Safe Drinking Water Act levels.
For years, citizens’ groups in Illinois have pushed state agencies to not only ensure that polluters be required to provide financial assurances for clean up, but also to require the removal of coal ash from failing pits to high and dry landfills, allow for the assessment and prevention of damage to rivers and lakes and provide more opportunity for public input.
“Dynegy’s Vermilion coal plant near Champaign has burned its last lump of coal, but the toxic legacy of the plant lives on through its dangerous coal ash pits, which continue to leak into the water supply” said Joyce Blumenshine of the Heart of Illinois Group of the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter.
“Dynegy’s Champaign County ash dump is a red flag for other communities, like Peoria, where Dynegy dumps toxic ash next to the Illinois River. The EPA’s federal coal ash rules give Illinois the chance to put the burden of cleanup back on the polluters, not on our communities.”
“Coal ash ponds leak and they fail. Communities in Tennessee and North Carolina have learned those devastating lessons. The coal ash ponds at NRG’s Waukegan plant that sit right next to Lake Michigan already have documented water quality impacts” said Maryfran Troha with Clean Power Lake County, a citizens’ group working to move Lake County beyond fossil fuels to clean energy.
“Federal protections against dangerous coal ash are long overdue, and with such a long history of contamination on Waukegan’s lakefront it’s time for NRG to remove its own toxic legacy on our lakefront. NRG should not wait another day to draft a plan to remove coal ash from the site, and ensure money is set aside to clean up their lakefront site so taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill when they leave.”
“CWLP is in a financial tailspin, and its unlined coal ash ponds pose a high risk to ratepayers and water quality,” said Scott Gauvin Vice Chair of the Sangamon Valley Group of the Sierra Club. Illinois Chapter. “As ratepayers, we’re already on the hook to pay for CWLP’s coal dependence. We’re counting on Illinois to take strong action to clean up coal ash pollution here in Springfield and across the state.” - 30 -