Sierra Club celebrates expansion of Illinois coal ash case

The Sierra Club on Feb. 20 celebrated the fact that the prior day the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) opened up a 2013 complaint over water impacts of coal ash sites at Midwest Generation power plants so that newly-discovered ash disposal sites can be added to the complaint.

The Midwest Generation plants are currently owned by NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG). The IPCB ruled in favor of a request from the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Prairie Rivers Network and Citizens Against Ruining the Environment to expand the groups’ existing groundwater case against NRG Energy to include newly discovered coal ash storage, disposal and fill sites at each of NRG’s active coal-fired power plants in Illinois.

“As more documents were uncovered in litigation, attorneys representing the citizens’ groups discovered old ash dumps where Midwest Generation – the previous owners of NRG’s coal fleet – has disposed of or stored coal ash waste,” the club said in a Feb. 20 public statement. “These previously undisclosed ash dumps are suspected of contributing to significant groundwater pollution at all of NRG’s coal plant sites in Illinois.”

In 2012, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued notices of violation for high levels of pollutants in the groundwater at coal ash ponds at coal plants in Waukegan, Joliet, Romeoville and Pekin. Shortly thereafter, citizen groups filed a lawsuit against Midwest Generation for these alleged violations of water pollution laws. NRG subsequently purchased Midwest Generation and all of its coal plants out of bankruptcy court. They had previously been owned by Edison International (NYSE: EIX).

The amended complaint in the case, accepted by the Illinois Pollution Control Board on Feb. 19, adds several coal ash dumps to the known ash ponds that have been disclosed by the company. The board said that within 30 days of service of this order, Midwest Generation may file a motion alleging that the amended complaint is duplicative or frivolous, to which the environmental groups may file a response.

Said the Dec. 15 amended complaint about newly-discovered ash sites:

  • “Citizens Groups now have reason to believe that Midwest Generation has caused or allowed coal ash to be kept in two or more landfills at the Joliet 29 site in addition to the three ash ponds named in the Complaint.”
  • “Citizens Groups now have reason to believe that Midwest Generation caused or allowed coal ash to be kept on land and in multiple impoundments at the Powerton site in addition to the four impoundments named in the Complaint.”
  • “Citizens Groups now have reason to believe that Midwest Generation has caused or allowed coal ash to be kept in one or more areas at the Waukegan site in addition to the two ash ponds named in the Complaint.”
  • “Citizens Groups now have reason to believe that Midwest Generation has caused or allowed coal ash to be kept in one or more areas at the Will County site in addition to the four ash ponds named in the complaint.”

The amended complaint added: “The fundamental contentions of the Complaint – that Midwest Generation waste disposal practices for its coal ash and other coal combustion wastes have contaminated groundwater – remains unchanged. The Amended Complaint does not add or remove any claims, but attempts to conform the pleadings to match the newly discovered facts of the case. The changes to the Complaint also do not require modification of the discovery schedule and, therefore, will not delay the resolution of this case in any way.”

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.