Press Release

“New” Coal Ash Sites Likely to be Added to Groundwater Case

Feburary 20,2015

Undisclosed Coal Ash Waste Sites Exposed at NRG Coal Plants in Illinois

Illinois Pollution Control Board Allows Expanded Lawsuit on Groundwater Violations from NRG Coal Ash Waste to Proceed

CHICAGO — Yesterday, the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) weighed in to protect Illinois from previously unrevealed coal ash dumps near NRG Energy’s Illinois coal plants that threaten the state’s water resources. The IPCB ruled in favor of a request from the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Prairie Rivers Network and Citizens Against Ruining the Environment to expand the groups’ existing groundwater lawsuit against NRG Energy to include newly discovered coal ash storage, disposal and fill sites at each of NRG’s active coal-fired power plants in Illinois.

As more documents were uncovered in litigation, attorneys representing the citizens’ groups discovered old ash dumps where Midwest Generation – the previous owners of NRG’s coal fleet – has disposed of or stored coal ash waste. These previously undisclosed ash dumps are suspected of contributing to significant groundwater pollution at all of NRG’s coal plant sites in Illinois.

“Today’s decision by the Illinois Pollution Control Board to allow an expanded lawsuit and investigation into NRG’s coal ash disposal methods brings us one step closer to making sure local communities and bodies of water around these plants are adequately protected,” said Holly Bender, an attorney with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. “While NRG asserts that it is building the utility of the future, it is still operating dirty coal plants across Illinois that are discharging toxic waste like a utility of the past. Real commitment to change is needed and we have no time to spare as Illinois’ rivers and lakes are at risk.”

In 2012, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued notices of violation for high levels of dangerous pollutants in the groundwater at coal ash ponds at coal plants in Waukegan, Joliet, Romeoville and Pekin. Shortly thereafter, citizen groups filed a lawsuit against Midwest Generation for these repeated violations of water pollution laws. NRG, which subsequently purchased the Midwest Generation and all of its coal plants (on date), thus far has made no long-term commitment to the communities to ensure full remediation of these sites.

“We saw the need for citizen groups to bring a lawsuit because any deal between the IEPA and Midwest Generation might not go far enough to protect the public and the groundwater,” said Jennifer Cassel, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Our discovery of these unlined coal ash dumps, which were not part of IEPA’s violation notices, just goes to show why citizen oversight is needed.”

Coal ash, the toxic by-product that is left over after coal is burned, contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and selenium. The public health hazards and environmental threats to nearby communities from unsafe coal ash storage have been documented for decades. These include increased risk of cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, birth defects, asthma, and other illnesses.