Environmental Groups Urge Illinois State Legislature to Take Action Regarding Coal Ash Ponds

A report, authored by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earth justice, Prairie Rivers Network, and the Sierra Club, found that groundwater near 90 percent of reporting Illinois coal ash sites contain toxic pollutants like arsenic, cobalt, and lithium. The report’s results are based on data sets made public for the first time earlier this year as part of new federal regulations of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of coal-fired power generation that is commonly stored in unlined ponds or landfills near the plants. The groups are urging J.B. Pritzker, Illinois’ next governor, to require coal plant owners to stop using the existing coal ponds and to set aside money to clean up the coal ash ponds.

“We’re reaching a turning point as energy companies are proposing to leave coal ash in floodplains of rivers and exposed to groundwater,” said Andrew Rehn, a water resources engineer at the Prairie Rivers Network. “We need stronger rules that provide permanent protection with a financial guarantee, and give the public a voice in these decisions.”

The report compares the metals found in Illinois groundwater near the coal ash sites to federal health standards including Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safe drinking water standards. The report concludes that the groundwater contained levels hundreds to thousands of times the recommended levels.

“There are more than two dozen coal ash dumpsites spread across Illinois that contain over 80 individual ash ponds and landfills,” an overview of the report notes. “Almost all of these ash dumps sit right next to rivers and lakes, separated from them only by thin earthen embankments. They are disproportionately located in communities with limited resources but pose a threat that extends far and wide.”

“Illinois has the second-highest number of coal ash disposal sites in the nation,” said Scott Bennett, a state senator representing Illinois’ 52nd district. Speaking to the “growing coal ash crisis in Illinois,” Bennett called for swift measures to safeguard residents.

“We need permanent protections from coal ash pollution to keep our waters and our communities safe,” Senator Bennett said.

Under President Trump, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has sought to ease national standards regarding coal ash ponds. Moving forward, an adoption of the report’s recommendation by Illinois’ Democrat controlled government will set up another potential conflict between state and federal environmental regulators. We’ll be tracking this potential legislation and the tension it could cause for Illinois power companies seeking to comply with increasingly conflicting regulations.

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