Friday, February 02, 2018

Environmental group says it will sue coal plant owner for toxic waste from coal ash leaching into Illinois river

Toxic coal ash waste leaks into the Vermilion River (Prairie Rivers Network photo)
In a case that could be repeated all over the country, a nonprofit environmental organization announced this week that it will file suit against a coal company for violating the federal Clean Water Act. Prairie Rivers Network alleges that Dynegy Inc. allowed toxic waste from one of its now-shuttered coal plants to seep into the state's only National Scenic River. PRN said it will sue because federal and state regulators haven't addressed the pollution from the plant, which is located on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River near Oakwood, about 25 miles east of Urbana.

Chicago Tribune graphic; click on the image to enlarge it.
The Vermilion Power Station was built in the mid-1950s by Illinois Power and was later purchased by Dynegy. "Before Dynegy closed the plant in 2011, the two companies deposited more than 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash into pits next to the river — enough to fill the Empire State Building nearly 2½ times. Testing by Dynegy and the Prairie Rivers Network shows the multicolored waste oozing into the water contains dangerous levels of heavy metals found in coal ash, including arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and manganese," Michael Hawthorne reports for the Chicago Tribune.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cited Dynegy for pollution at the site in 2012; the case is still open. Because the plant has been closed for so long, the ash pits are exempt from Obama-era federal coal ash disposal regulations. President Trump reconsidered the regulations partly because of lobbying from Dynegy and other energy companies, Hawthorne reports. Dynegy has proposed capping the waste pits to prevent rain and snowmelt from washing coal ash into the water, but the river banks are eroding up to three feet per year, making that plan unlikely to work.

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