Press Release

Press Release: State Legislators, Community Leaders Share Grave Concerns About Toxic Coal Ash

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes, ELPC (312) 795-3706, [email protected]

State Legislators, Community Leaders Share Grave Concerns About Toxic Coal Ash
Leaders Gather in Capitol to Warn of Dangers and Critique Inaction

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Today, legislators and community leaders gathered at the Illinois State Capitol calling for improvements to the proposed state rules concerning toxic coal ash ponds in communities across the state. State rules are pending before the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) and must be comprehensive to fill gaps in the federal rule. The group is asking Governor Rauner and Illinois EPA to support stronger rules for cleanup so coal ash won’t be left as a toxic legacy and a barrier to new economic development opportunities in Illinois communities.

“It’s critical that the State of Illinois craft stronger coal ash protections to make sure no company can simply cap their toxic waste and walk away without a full cleanup plan,” said Illinois Senator Melinda Bush. “We must make sure these sites have positive re-use opportunities so that they can be a future financial asset to local communities.”

Illinois State Representative Carol Ammons agrees. She said, “Illinois taxpayers should not bear the burden of mitigation costs nor the long-term liability for cleanup or site maintenance. This is the responsibility of the owners of the coal ash ponds.”

Coal ash, the waste left over from burning coal, contains arsenic, selenium, mercury and other pollutants — all harmful to people and wildlife. Wet ash is stored in the 90 impoundments called ponds at dozens of operating and closed power plant sites across the state. IEPA found contaminated groundwater at every site tested. Coal ash waste and contaminated groundwater pose grave challenges to communities seeking to re-use these properties, court new businesses, and maintain their critical tax-bases.

The federal coal ash rule, in effect as of October last year, provides minimal closure requirements and leaves it up to the companies to implement. Illinois was developing a comprehensive set of enforceable rules for the cleanup and closure of our state’s coal ash mess. Until recently, the state was making progress on state rules before the Illinois Pollution Control Board. Last month the Illinois EPA indicated to the board its intention to radically scale back the proposal, and allow coal companies to cap their coal ash waste and walk away. Such standards leave limited re-use options for these sites that could otherwise hold promising redevelopment opportunities.

“The Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Illinois’ only designated National Scenic River, is a poster-child for why comprehensive state coal ash rules are desperately needed in Illinois. Three pits containing 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash lie within the floodplain of the Middle Fork posing a long-term threat to the river, to the people who depend on it and to the recreational and economic value that it provides to the region,” said Lan Richart, Co-Director of the Eco-Justice Collaborative in Champaign.

“I am alarmed that the federal coal ash rule does not address the risks of inactive sites. As it stands, companies are allowed to simply cap these ponds and walk away. We’re calling on lawmakers to stand with coal communities and taxpayers who can’t afford to be left on the hook for costly cleanups,” said Laura Asher, chair of the Piasa Palisades group of the Sierra Club in Alton.