Groups threaten to sue PacifiCorp over Huntington coal waste issues

The Sierra Club and HEAL Utah said Oct. 20 that they have filed a notice of intent to sue with PacifiCorp d/b/a Rocky Mountain Power over alleged water pollution from the coal-fired Huntington power plant in Utah.

The notice of intent details numerous alleged problems in dealing with the ash waste and scrubber residues. Those include “elaborate engineering” schemes such as backfilling natural tributaries and creating a “research farm” where wastewater and leachate from coal ash landfills are used for “irrigation.” The notice also claims related problems that are contaminating ground and surface water, including an unpermitted pipe that is discharging directly into Huntington Creek and failure to mitigate runoff from a pile of coal stored near the plant.

Running at full capacity, the Huntington plant generates an estimated 320,000 tons of coal ash waste each year, which is dumped into unlined landfills, one used since at least 1973 and a newer one built in 2000, the environmental groups said. Wastewater consisting of leachate from the landfills and from power plant operations also has been stored in two unlined waste ponds at Huntington.

EPA data show millions of pounds of toxic chemicals disposed of in Huntington’s ash waste landfills, including barium, chromium, manganese, mercury and vanadium, the groups said. Monitoring data, which come directly from reports to the Utah Department of Water Quality, show concentrations of indicator pollutants steadily intensifying and spreading in ground and surface water as it moves downhill from the landfills toward the research farm, they added..

HEAL Utah and the Sierra Club worked with Public Justice to draft the notice because of the latter’s experience working on coal ash issues. They are giving PacifiCorp, which is owned by investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, up to three months to correct the problems. Under the Clean Water Act, the company faces fines up to $37,500 per day per violation.

PacifiCorp spokesperson Dave Eskelsen said in an Oct. 20 e-mail to Generation Hub: “The ‘Notice of Intent to Sue’ by Public Justice contains many assumptions and assertions that are incorrect. (As an example, the point source identified on page 9 item D of their letter does not belong to PacifiCorp.) Concerns raised that are actual issues have been identified because they are available in the public records, having been reported by PacifiCorp to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. These issues have been addressed or are currently being addressed with the oversight of the Department of Environmental Quality. PacifiCorp continues to ensure that the facility remains in compliance with the recently finalized coal combustion residual rules and all requirements of the clean water act.”

Eskelsen added about the coal stockpile issue: “Regarding the coal inventory at the Rock Garden location, the current stockpile is about 620,000 tons. The site is permitted by the state and managed in compliance with environmental regulations. Its purpose is to hold a coal stockpile for Huntington plant for both inventory and blending for overall fuel quality. The company began using the site for this purpose in February 2007.”

The first unit at the Huntington plant was commissioned in 1974 on a 1,000-acre site. The second unit was commissioned in 1977 and today the plant produces 895 MW. PacifiCorp owns and operates the plant. Each unit is equipped with an SO2 scrubber – the one on Unit 2 was added in 2006 – and each has a baghouse to control particulate emissions. Huntington burns 3 million tons of coal per year, mostly from Utah suppliers, including PacifiCorp’s recently-shut Deer Creek longwall mine.

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.