The Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit Sept 18 against the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to force it to issue a new Clean Water Act permit for Santee Cooper’s Grainger coal ash lagoons on the Waccamaw River.
The center filed the suit for the Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the alliance in a Sept. 18 statement. The suit challenges what the environmental groups claim is DHEC’s special treatment of Santee Cooper that has protected it from new pollution treatments, and the fact that DHEC has left it up to Santee Cooper to decide whether to issue a new permit.
Santee Cooper, also known as the South Carolina Public Service Authority, is an arm of state government. Santee Cooper stores 650,000 tons of coal ash in old lagoons in wetlands on the banks of the Waccamaw River. DHEC and Santee Cooper have known for years that the lagoons are polluting the Waccamaw and groundwater with arsenic, as well as mercury and copper, the plaintiffs said.
Every five years, DHEC is required to re-examine and renew Clean Water Act permits for industries that pollute waterways, like Santee Cooper. Santee Cooper’s Clean Water Act permit for its Conway coal ash lagoons was issued 10 years ago in 2002 and expired in September 2006, six years ago. But, DHEC has yet to review and issue a new permit for Santee Cooper’s coal ash lagoons, and thereby has allowed Santee Cooper to continue to use old technology that pollutes the Waccamaw with arsenic, mercury, copper and other pollutants, the groups said.
Santee Cooper and DHEC have communicated about the permit, and DHEC has indicated to Santee Cooper that it would issue the permit if Santee Cooper wanted it to, the groups said. The suit was filed in South Carolina state court in Columbia.
A DHEC spokesman was unavailable for comment on the morning of Sept. 19.
The two coal-fired units at Grainger produce 170 MW, according to the Santee Cooper website.