The Environmental Protection Agency plans to reject requests from DTE Electric, Salt River Project, Luminant Generating and other companies that they be allowed to continue dumping coal ash from power plants into unlined ponds, the EPA said Wednesday.
Any final deadlines to stop putting coal ash in unlined basins could be delayed if they would cause power plants to shut and threaten grid reliability, according to the EPA.
“EPA is holding facilities accountable and protecting our precious water resources from harmful contamination, all while ensuring a reliable supply of electricity to our communities,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
Under a rule finalized in mid-2020, the EPA allowed utilities to continue dumping coal ash from their power plants into unlined basins until April 11, 2021.
Coal ash contains toxins like mercury, cadmium and arsenic, and the impoundments where it has been dumped are a source of groundwater contamination, according to the EPA. Under what is called the Part B rule, power plant owners were allowed to seek exemptions from the dumping moratorium if they could show their basins met federal standards.
The EPA is proposing to reject all six pending exemption requests for various reasons, including because they lacked adequate groundwater monitoring networks and there was evidence the basins’ liners were leaking.
The affected power plants are:
- DTE Electric’s 3,066-MW Monroe and 1,034-MW Belle River plants in Michigan;
- Rainbow Energy Center’s 1,200-MW Coal Creek Station in North Dakota;
- Salt River Project’s 780-MW Coronado Generating Station in Arizona;
- Luminant Generating’s 2,250-MW Martin Lake Steam power plant in Texas; and,
- The 1,772-MW Conemaugh Generating Station in Pennsylvania. Talen Energy, Olympus Power and others jointly own the plant.
If the EPA finalizes the denials, the power plant owners will have four months to apply for deadline extensions or stop putting waste in the basins within 135 days of the final decision.
The deadlines could be extended if the EPA determines the power plants are needed to maintain grid reliability based on assessments by grid operators.
The EPA said it is obligated to ensure companies comply with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which includes the coal ash rules.
“Where there is a conflict between timely compliance and electric reliability, EPA intends to carefully exercise its authorities to ensure compliance with RCRA while taking into account any genuine, demonstrated risks to grid reliability identified through the process established by [the Midcontinent independent System Operator,]” the EPA said in its proposed decision for DTE’s Belle River plant.
Comments on the proposed decisions are due by March 10.
Earthjustice said utility cleanup of ash ponds is overdue.
“In these decisions, EPA called out many of the dirty tricks that utilities are using to avoid identifying and cleaning up their groundwater contamination, such as putting monitoring wells in the wrong places or using deficient testing methods,” Melissa Legge, Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement.
A year ago, the EPA started proposing determinations for deadline extensions under its coal ash Part A rule. The agency in November rejected a request for an extension for Lightstone Generation’s 2,600-MW General James M. Gavin Plant in Ohio. Lightstone is a joint venture between private equity firms ArcLight Capital Partners and the Blackstone Group. The EPA has issued proposed decisions for 11 other power plants, but hasn’t made final decisions on them yet.