Environmental Group Files Federal Lawsuit Against South Carolina Coal Plant
On Monday, April 29th, a local environmental group followed up on its threat in February to sue the Santee Cooper plant if the company did not literally clean up its act. The Southern Environmental Law Center has issued a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina coal plant.
The group originally notified enforcers that they would sue within 60 days if the Santee Cooper plant did not speed up its cleanup efforts.
The federal lawsuit alleges that state environmental regulators knew about arsenic poisoning in the area for more than a decade, but both the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in South Carolina, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have failed to uphold pollution laws.
In the federal lawsuit, the Southern Environmental Law Center asks a federal court to require that the Santee Cooper plant remove toxic coal ash from waste ponds around the Grainger power plant, and clean up contaminated ground water.
This particular federal lawsuit is unusual – it was filed under a section of the Clean Water Act that allows citizens to enforce environmental rules if they believe regulators, such as DHEC, are failing.
According to the Waccamaw Riverkeepers, this is the first federal lawsuit under the Clean Water Act involving coal ash pollution in the Southeast. A massive spill in Tennessee several years ago increased scrutiny on the practice of dumping waste coal ash into ponds, which usually serve as disposal sites. Sometimes the sites are left capped for years, potentially leaking arsenic into ground water.
Santee Cooper Says Plan is Sound, Federal Lawsuit Uncalled For
Mollie Gore, spokeswoman for Santee Cooper, said that it would cost the company $90 million to dispose of coal ash the way the Southern Environmental Law Center is insisting on. She added that Santee Cooper submitted a proposal to DHEC, which the agency is in the process of reviewing, that proposes a way to dispose of coal ash on-site.
“We chose a plan that meets all the criteria that is protective of public health and the environment,” Gore said. “It meets regulatory requirements. It is sustainable. It is proven technology and sound engineering. And it is cost effective.”
DHEC has acknowledged that they have a backlog of over 500 expiring operating permits, and that Santee Cooper’s permit expired in 2006. DHEC has not issued a new one yet, with tougher pollution controls.
Arsenic levels are 70 to 90 times the current legal limit of 10 parts per billion underneath the plant.
The federal lawsuit is the second piece of litigation against the Santee Cooper plant’s Grainger site in the last year. The first suit was on the state level, attempting to get the plant to clean up the area.
The utility is closing down the aging Grainger-area power plant, which was built in the 1960’s and is failing. As part of that operation, it will drain one of the two coal waste ponds, then place a cap over the other. However, environmentalists and the law center insist that that action is not enough – without removing the coal ash waste, toxic leaks could continue.
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A toxic tort involves the exposure of individuals, often in large numbers, to harmful chemical or biological substances. If you or a loved one have been exposed to a toxic leak and have since suffered health problems, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the federal litigation toxic tort attorneys today for a free consultation. 803.252.4800.