Environmental groups unveil coal ash website for Southeast U.S.

In an effort to boost opposition to coal-fired power, environmental groups that included the Southern Environmental Law Center on Dec. 11 unveiled a website where residents of various states, including Virginia and North Carolina, can get information on coal ash disposal sites at power plants in those states.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices, Southern Environmental Law Center and NC Conservation Network launched what they call the first-ever comprehensive online tool that allows local residents in the Southeast U.S. to find specific information about coal ash impoundments near them.

The site, www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org, includes information on the health threats associated with this toxic waste from coal-fired power plants, safety ratings of the coal ash impoundments, and how citizens can take action to call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for proper coal ash regulation, the groups said in a Dec. 11 statement.

The Southern Environmental Law Center on Dec. 11 issued nearly identical statements touting the website for residents of the states of South Carolina and Virginia.

“South Carolina is one of nine states covered by the site, which is being launched four years after a massive coal ash dam in Kingston, Tenn. catastrophically failed, releasing a billion-gallon wave of coal ash that poisoned some 300 acres, destroyed two dozen homes and filled the Emory River with toxic sludge,” the groups said in the statement released for that state. “The coalition developed the website to call greater attention to the lurking dangers of coal ash in the South, where nearly 450 impoundments hold roughly 118 billion gallons of the toxic waste.”

“Coal ash is a threat to our natural resources in South Carolina. We are working especially hard to convince Santee Cooper to move the 650,000 tons of coal ash that it is storing in unlined pits on the Waccamaw River in Conway, leaking arsenic into our waters,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Our rivers and our communities will be safe only when coal ash is moved away from the rivers, stored in a dry state in properly lined disposal facilities.”

The groups said the site features an interactive map and database of 100 coal-fired power plants in the Southeast, color-coded by the amount of damage each would inflict if the coal ash dams were to break, according to EPA. A brief glance at the map shows just how much more work needs to be done to assess these dangers – almost half of the plants in the Southeast have inadequate data for EPA to properly assess the coal ash dams on site. Moreover, many of the plants lack adequate water monitoring data to show whether contamination problems exist at these sites, the groups said.

The website reveals that in South Carolina, only one of the state’s twelve coal fired power plants has had its dams inspected by EPA, the groups said. Of those dams that are rated in the Southeast, nearly one-third are “high hazard,” meaning that a dam failure like Kingston would likely cause fatalities, they added.

“It’s been over four years since EPA promised to properly regulate coal ash, but it remains an unregulated toxic waste largely stored in unlined holding lagoons, much to the detriment of South Carolina’s drinking and recreational waters,” said Frank Holleman. “SoutheastCoalAsh.org offers concerned citizens a new way to learn about coal plants near their homes and in their communities that may have dangerous coal ash storage lagoons.”

The statement for Virginia residents said the website reveals that only five of Virginia’s 13 covered power plants have been inspected for dam safety by EPA.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.