Illinois EPA Developing Rules To Regulate Coal Ash Ponds

Coal ash ponds at the Vermilion Power Plant, located in the floodplain of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.

A new law passed last year requires the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to develop rules regulating the closure of ponds that store waste from coal-fired power plants.

The agency released a draft rule in December, and stakeholders met Monday in Springfield to share their thoughts.

Andrew Rehn with the clean water advocacy group Prairie Rivers Network, based in Champaign, attended the meeting. He said he wants to see tougher regulations on “temporary piles” of coal ash, once it’s removed from coal ash ponds.

“Instead of it being inside an impoundment, which at least has a barrier on the outside, a pile of coal ash is a pile of coal ash, just sitting there,” Rehn said, “and they’re called temporary, but without some real restrictions on how long you can have them, these temporary piles stick around forever.”

Rehn said there are several other areas where he would like to see the Illinois EPA rule strengthened. Those include more clear standards for what it will take for the EPA to approve a plan to close a coal ash pond, further protections for workers who transport coal ash from ponds to new sites, and regulations for coal ash landfills and dumps, not just coal ash ponds.

He said he is pleased with the groundwater monitoring requirements in the draft rule.

“Senate Bill 9 demands that the EPA develop a rule that’s stronger than the federal rule, and they definitely did so in the case of groundwater monitoring,” Rehn said. “We have more robust groundwater monitoring looking for a wider range of pollutants, all things that are very common in coal ash that just aren’t covered in the federal rule.”

He said the draft rule also requires companies to look at removing coal ash from ponds, rather than simply capping them in their current location, which is a step in the right direction.

Coal ash contains arsenic, chromium, lead and other heavy metals that can leech into groundwater, which are dangerous for human consumption.

A recent report from Prairie Rivers Network and other environmental advocacy organizations found that there was widespread groundwater pollution near 22 of the state’s 24 coal ash dumpsites, including heavy metals.

The bill passed last year with support from area legislators, who have been pushing for the energy company Vistra to clean up coal ash ponds from its shuttered Dynegy Vermilion power plant near the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.

In response to an emailed request for comment, a Vistra spokesperson said the company is continuing to review the Illinois EPA’s draft rule and intends to submit formal written comment.

Members of the public can also submit written comments to the EPA regarding the draft rule. Those can be submitted through Monday, Jan. 13, and should be submitted by email to EPA.CoalAshRules@illinois.gov.

Before writing the draft rule, the Illinois EPA held public listening sessions across the state in Danville, Peoria, Granite City, Mt. Vernon, Joliet and Waukegan.

You can read the full 130-page draft rule below, or at this link.



IEPA OUTREACH Draft December 2019 (Final) (Text)

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Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.