Court rejects water permit for Louisville’s Trimble County plant

Environmental groups on Sept. 11 were celebrating a ruling the previous day out of a Kentucky circuit court that sent a water permit for Louisville Gas and Electric‘s (LG&E) Trimble County coal plant back to a state agency for more work.

The groups, led by the Sierra Club, said in a Sept. 11 statement that the permit, issued in 2010, allows the utility to dump large amounts of mercury, arsenic and other pollutants into the Ohio River. The Franklin Circuit Court ruled in favor of Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Sierra Club, Valley Watch and Save the Valley, sending the permit back to the Kentucky Division of Water.

The court said that the agency failed to conduct a needed Best Professional Judgment (BPJ) analysis of scrubber wastewater issues. The judge said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may issue a national rule on the scrubber wastewater issue that overrides the state standards, but that doesn’t relieve the state from doing the BPJ analysis in the meantime.

LG&E spokesperson Chris Whelan said Sept. 13 that the utility is disappointed in the court decision and looking at its legal options, but that in the meantime the permit is still in place and this ruling does not impact plant operations.

“This is wonderful news for Kentucky’s rivers and means that LG&E will now have to put in place controls for toxic pollutants like arsenic and mercury,” said Judy Peterson, Executive Director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. “It’s been forty-one years since the Clean Water Act was passed by a bipartisan Congress over then President Nixon’s veto. This decision reinforces that the Act does indeed require the Division of Water to write discharge permits that limit all pollutants in an industry’s discharge.”

LG&E parent PPL Corp. (NYSE: PPL) said about this case in its Aug. 2 Form 10-Q report: “In May 2010, the Kentucky Waterways Alliance and other environmental groups filed a petition with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet challenging the Kentucky Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit issued in April 2010, which covers water discharges from the Trimble County plant. In November 2010, the Cabinet issued a final order upholding the permit. In December 2010, the environmental groups appealed the order to the Trimble Circuit Court, but the case was subsequently transferred to the Franklin Circuit Court.”

The Sierra Club also mentioned a controversy over Trimble County coal ash disposal related to a protected cave, which PPL explained this way in its Form 10-Q: “In May 2011, LG&E submitted an application for a special waste landfill permit to handle coal combustion residuals generated at the Trimble County plant. After extensive review of the permit application in May 2013, the Kentucky Division of Waste Management denied the permit application on the grounds that the proposed facility would violate the Kentucky Cave Protection Act because it would eliminate an on-site karst feature considered to be a cave. LG&E and KU are assessing additional options for managing coal combustion residuals including construction of a landfill at an alternate site adjacent to the plant. Submittal of a new permit application for an alternative site may result in additional environmental considerations in the course of the permitting process and substantial additional costs. LG&E and KU are unable to determine the precise impact of this matter until they select an alternate management option and complete a detailed engineering design.”

The Trimble County plant has two coal units: the older Unit 1 at 514 MW, and the new Unit 2 at 750 MW.

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.