A nationwide battle has existed for years between utilities and environmentalists on how to best manage coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal.
Escalated by national disasters, such as the 2009 Tennessee Valley Authority spill and the 2014 Duke Energy spill, those disputes have come to a head in recent years with the 2015 establishment of the coal combustion residual rules and the 2018 rollbacks of those rules by the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency.
In the midst of federal uncertainty, utilities in compliance with those 2015 rules filed groundwater monitoring results. A report compiling those filings from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice found that more than 90% of coal plants across the country reported elevated levels of at least one coal ash pollutant.
Utility Dive visited the most contaminated site listed in the report, the San Miguel power plant, which is located on leased Texas ranch land an hour south of San Antonio. The land is home to the Peeler family, who are in the midst of a fight with the San Miguel electric cooperative over cleaning up the land and restoring it to its original condition.
Their story offers a firsthand account of how coal ash can impact land and where loops in current federal regulation exist.
Associate editor Catherine Morehouse and former podcast host Gavin Bade dive into the national implications of the site and the state of coal ash policy in the United States.