June 20, 2019
CHICAGO — Today the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) agreed with environmental groups in their lawsuit against Midwest Generation, LLC, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, alleging that four of its coal power plants contaminated groundwater with harmful chemicals found in coal ash. The pollution at those four coal power plants, located in Waukegan, Joliet, Pekin, and Will County, put the densely populated communities around the plants at risk. This is a major victory in a case started in 2012 by the environmental groups (Sierra Club, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Prairie Rivers Network, and Citizens Against Ruining the Environment).
The IPCB agreed with the groups’ claim that the contaminants from coal ash at the power plants, including arsenic, boron, sulfate, and other chemicals, routinely exceeded water quality standards and, thus, violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Act. The groups alleged that NRG Energy’s subsidiary Midwest Generation, which has owned or operated the four power plants since 1999, knew about coal ash contaminants both in and outside coal ash ponds and failed to prevent groundwater contamination.
The next step in this case will be a determination of remedy. The environmental groups will fight for the most stringent remedy possible, including a demand for removal of coal ash dumps at the coal power plants.
“Today is a huge victory for Waukegan residents who have fought for years to see corporations like NRG Energy held accountable for the toxic waste that has been illegally dumped on our Lake Michigan lakefront,” said Dulce Ortiz, Waukegan resident and Co-Chair of Clean Power Lake County. “The Pollution Control Board’s decision is a sharp rebuttal to NRG and Midwest Generation’s claims that they weren’t responsible for groundwater contamination from its dangerous coal ash waste. It’s critical that NRG is required to remove its toxic ash from our lakefront.”
“Today’s decision is a historic win for Citizens’ Against Ruining the Environment and Will County residents who have carried the burden of living next to NRG’s aging power plants and toxic coal ash waste for decades,” said Ellen Rendulich, Romeoville resident and Director of Citizens Against Ruining the Environment. “Our communities deserve to have this out-of-state corporation’s waste removed from these sites and NRG must be responsible for this clean up.”
“There is a moral obligation to ensure that polluters are held accountable for the impact they have on the groundwater of Illinois communities,” said Faith Bugel, Attorney for Sierra Club. “ The Board’s decision calls NRG out, and we urge the Board to impose a remedy that holds out-of-state companies accountable for cleaning up the pollution they dump in Illinois.”
“The Board’s decision affirms the broad scope of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act’s prohibition on water pollution and puts owners or operators of sites with coal ash on notice of their obligation to not pollute groundwater,” said Jeffrey Hammons, Attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Companies that run afoul of Illinois’ groundwater quality standards due to their improper handling of coal ash do so at their own peril.”
“The owners of these plants tried to deny that the groundwater was contaminated, and they even tried to deny that they knew anything about all of the coal ash buried across their properties,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, which represented Prairie Rivers Network before the Board. “The reality is that coal ash on their property continues to contaminate groundwater. We are pleased and grateful that the Board could see through the smokescreen, and that they chose to stand up for Illinois’ natural resources.”
“Today’s decision is an important step in holding polluters accountable for their coal ash messes,” said Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer at Prairie Rivers Network. “NRG’s coal ash ponds at Waukegan, Joliet, Pekin, and Will County have been polluting our groundwater for years. We hope that the Illinois Pollution Control Board makes NRG remove the coal ash dumps on their property and store it in safe facilities.”