EPA orders Ohio power plant to stop dumping toxic coal ash
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a major action to address toxic wastewater from coal-fired power plants, the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday ordered an Ohio utility to stop dumping ash hazardous coal in unlined storage ponds and expedite site cleanup.
The order at the General James Gavin Generating Station in southern Ohio marks the first time the EPA has officially denied a utility’s request to continue disposing of toxic coal ash after the expiration of a time limit to stop this elimination. Gavin’s plant, located along the Ohio River in Cheshire, Ohio, is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the United States.
At least five other factories, most in the Midwest, face similar action from the EPA in a proposed crackdown in January.
“For too long, communities already disproportionately affected by high levels of pollution have been burdened by poor coal ash disposal,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Friday. “Today’s action reaffirms that surface impoundments or landfills cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater.”
The action aims to ensure the security of local water resources while protecting public health and ensuring a reliable supply of electricity, Regan said.
Coal ash, the substance left over when coal is burned to generate electricity, contains a toxic mixture of mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals. It can pollute waterways, poison wildlife and cause respiratory illnesses in people living near huge ponds where waste is stored.
The EPA order directs the power plant to stop placing coal ash and other waste streams in an onsite storage pond no later than 135 days after publication in the Federal Register, expected the week next. In practice, the factory may have to suspend or even cease operations next year in order to comply with the order.
A spokesperson for the factory’s owner, Lightstone Generation LLC, could not be reached for comment. The company is a joint venture between private equity firms ArcLight Capital Partners and Blackstone Group.
The EPA said Friday that its decision recognizes the importance of maintaining grid reliability. The order establishes a process for Gavin to request additional time, if necessary, to resolve demonstrated network reliability issues.
The EPA said it was working with a regional grid operator to avoid unplanned outages and protect grid reliability. Under rules set by the network operator, PJM Interconnection, Gavin must request a planned outage at least 30 days in advance, the EPA said.
The order finalized on Friday follows a proposal released in January that implements a 2015 rule to reduce groundwater pollution from coal-fired power plants. The Trump administration weakened the Obama-era rule in 2020, allowing utilities to use cheaper technology and take longer to comply with less stringent guidelines than the original rule.
The coal ash action was among dozens of public health and environmental mandates that were weakened, reversed or eliminated under former President Donald Trump.
US coal-fired power plants produce about 100 million tons (90 million metric tons) per year of ash and other waste.
The EPA has proposed denials of coal ash permit extension applications by several other power plants, including the Clifty Creek Power Plant in Madison, Indiana and the Ottumwa Power Plant in Ottumwa, Iowa.
The HL Spurlock plant in Maysville, Ky., is required to set groundwater monitoring as a condition for continued operation of its coal ash pond, the EPA said.
Lisa Evans, senior counsel for environmental group Earthjustice, called the Gavin plant a “super polluter” and said EPA action was overdue.
“In this case, the violations are very obvious and very serious,” she said, adding that the plant’s previous and current operators “continued their reckless and illegal disposal of toxic coal ash and waste water.” contaminated underground. Now they will be forced to clean it up.″
A report released this month by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project indicates that 91% of U.S. coal-fired power plants have ash dumps or waste ponds that leak arsenic, lead, mercury and other metals in groundwater at dangerous levels, often threatening streams, rivers and drinking water aquifers.
Some power companies are illegally manipulating data and monitoring systems to avoid cleanup requirements and have come up with inadequate cleanup strategies that will not restore groundwater quality, according to the report.