CASTLE VALLEY, Utah — Five Utah power plants were called out for alleged coal ash mismanagement in a national report released Thursday and challenged by the operator of two of those plants.
Utah’s Hunter Power Plant, located near Castle Dale and operated by PacifiCorp, was ranked the ninth-most polluting groundwater plant in the nation in the national study of nearly 300 power plants by environmental law-related nonprofits Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project.
PacifiCorp operates Rocky Mountain Power, a utility that provides electricity to 1.2 million customers in Utah, southeastern Idaho and Wyoming, according to its website.
Along with the Hunter plant, the Huntington Power Plant Northwest of Huntington (No. 25, PacifiCorp), the Intermountain Generating Facility North of Delta (No. 43, Intermountain Power Service Corp.), the Bonanza Power northwest of Bonanza (No. 62, Deseret Generation and Transmission Co-op) and Sunnyside Cogeneration Associates Facility east of East Carbon (No. 93) landed within the top 100 groundwater polluting plants out of 292 in the nation.
Coal ash is the toxic waste product left over when coal is burned for electricity and is “one of the two largest industrial waste streams in the United States,” said Abel Russ, senior attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization that advocates for effective enforcement. of environmental law.
“We continue to generate about 70 million tons of coal ash each year,” Russ said. “This is full of toxic chemicals. There are at least six neurotoxins in coal ash including lithium. There are five or six known or suspected carcinogens, things like arsenic, and there are a bunch of contaminants that are also toxic to aquatic life.”
He said these neurotoxins and carcinogens “frequently” migrate to water sources.
PacifiCorp responded to the report on Thursday with the following statement:
- “PacifiCorp is not in violation of the Coal Combustion Residue Rule (CCR Rule) as implied in the report and publishes its compliance information publicly. PacifiCorp’s CCR units are not impacting any public drinking water sources.
- “PacifiCorp is in full compliance with the federal CCR rule and actively participates in the assessment, correction and remediation of groundwater impacts identified under the provisions of the rule.
- “PacifiCorp held public meetings and reviewed public comments to assess and select appropriate remedial steps for the three facilities listed in the report in 2019.
- “PacifiCorp has implemented and will continue to implement the most effective remedial steps at all of its plants, and the statements in the report that PacifiCorp is not seeking cleanup are inaccurate.
- “PacifiCorp has closed and has committed to close several of the listed CCR units.
- “In a quick review of the report, PacifiCorp found inaccurate or misleading information and statements about the CCR units at all three plants.”
The Environmental Protection Agency established its coal ash rule in 2015, in response to nearly 160 cases of water contamination and catastrophic coal ash spills — which sent more than 5 million tons of coal ash into nearby rivers — at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in 2008 and at Duke Energy’s Dan River Generating Station in 2014.
That rule established regulations to close leaking ponds and landfills to prevent them from contaminating drinking water sources and aquatic ecosystems, monitor and clean groundwater around coal ash disposal sites, and restore the environment around them. .
Thursday’s report claims groundwater around the plant contains levels of lithium (a neurotoxin) that are 210 times the safety threshold set by the EPA, while cobalt (blood and thyroid toxic) was found in 28 times the threshold.
“Almost every coal ash plant in the country is polluting the environment,” Russ said.
The Hunter plant’s only regulated coal ash disposal unit is a 340-acre landfill, of which 230 acres is used for coal ash disposal, according to the report.
Russ said that while the coal ash rule was put in place in part to determine how bad the pollution really is, something it has been successful at, it was also put in place to do something about it.
“We’re not seeing that as much as we should,” Russ said.
The Hunter plant is no exception.
According to the report, PacifiCorp has recognized that the landfill is contaminating groundwater and proceeded through detection and monitoring assessment to corrective action. In 2020, PacifiCorp selected a remedy.
Coal plant owners are ignoring the law and avoiding the cleanup because they don’t want to pay for it. Coal ash waste is causing widespread water pollution that threatens drinking water supplies and the environment.” — Lisa Evans, Senior Attorney at Earthjustice
“The remedy, which consists of horizontal groundwater collection wells used to collect leachate and contaminated groundwater, may not be adequate,” the report states.
“One of the problems with Hunter is that they claim the remedy is already working, but the evidence actually shows that it isn’t,” Russ said. “What we are actually seeing is that some contaminants are increasing in concentration in the groundwater, despite having those horizontal wells in place. We think that could be a bit of a problem.”
Another problem, the report alleges, is that PacifiCorp “appears to have limited its focus to two contaminants”: lithium and molybdenum, although there are also allegedly unsafe levels of contaminants including cobalt, radium, selenium, boron and sulfate.
“It will be important to find out if the remedy will really address all contaminants or just the two that they chose to highlight,” Russ said. “We think they’re doing something on Hunter, but he still doesn’t seem good enough.”
The report claims that Hunter is in violation of the coal ash rule due to “persistent contamination despite the implementation of a remedy.”
According to the report, another problem is that power plants that emit coal ash are primarily located in areas where the population is low-income, predominantly non-white, or both.
“This refusal by the utility industry to stop coal ash pollution harms our most vulnerable communities,” said Lisa Evans, senior attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization.
according to a database compiled by Earthjustice showing the implementation of the Coal Ash Rule in all tailings ponds and landfills in the US, the Hunter plant is disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities, with 30% of residents within a three-mile radius of the plant who are low-income.
“This is an environmental injustice,” Evans said.
However, this problem is not unique to the hive state.
The report found that more than 90% of the listed plants are contaminating local groundwater and that “most coal plants are delaying and avoiding compliance with the requirements of the federal rule.”
It also alleges that the utility industry “is illegally manipulating data and monitoring systems to make contaminated sites look clean and prevent cleanup.”
“In every state where coal is burned, power companies are violating federal health protections,” Evans said. “Coal plant owners are ignoring the law and avoiding the cleanup because they don’t want to pay for it. Coal ash waste is causing widespread water pollution that threatens drinking water supplies and the environment.”