Public Lab Research note

Coal Ash! You Dig?

by latrecejohnson59 | July 01, 2020 20:37 01 Jul 20:37 | #24080 | #24080

Introduction: The Alabama Power Company is moving forward with its plans to close its coal ash ponds by covering the ash in place alongside Alabama's rivers, instead of moving the material to a lined landfill. The utility will close the ponds in place as initially planned, despite legal proceedings that have forced utilities in other states to dig out their coal ash, and fines from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management over groundwater pollution near Alabama Power's ash ponds.

Our main concern:

Will groundwater contamination near the ash ponds that resulted in $250,000 in fines this year and $1.25 million in 2018 gradually decrease over time once the ponds are covered in place? Coal ash, or coal combustion residuals (CCR), is the solid material left after burning coal. Coal ash can contain potentially harmful substances such as arsenic, lead, cobalt, and selenium. For decades, coal power plants in Alabama and elsewhere used water to flush the ash and some materials captured by pollution control devices into wet lagoons or ponds, usually unlined, for indefinite storage.

Obstacles and supporting information:

This process has already been completed at one of the five impacted locations and de-watering operations at the remaining ash ponds are expected to begin this year. Yet, the process will still take several years to complete at each plant.

Who is engaged in this concern?

Environmental groups have criticized Alabama Power's decision to leave the ash in the riverside impoundments, even if the material is consolidated further away from the rivers, and lobbied the company to move the ash to lined landfills, as utilities in some states have agreed to do voluntarily or by government action. "Alabama Power wants to leave its coal ash sitting in leaking pits on the banks of our rivers and lakes forever, and these documents show that the Company is doubling down on its plans," said Keith Johnston, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center's Birmingham office. "Alabama Power refuses to do what other utilities are doing in Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia (including Georgia Power): excavating and removing these contaminants to modern, dry-lined landfills away from our waters.

What are the initial questions?

Why was this process of capping chosen over digging? How often do ash spills happen? How can we better protect 'America's Amazon' (Tensaw River Delta)? Who is truly policing Alabama Power and their environmental responsibility? [Alabama-Power, coal ash, chemical pollution, environmental justice, contamination-of-local-waters]


@latrecejohnson59 Looking up the Tensaw River Delta now, never had heard it called "America's Amazon" before :) I felt that way about paddling in Congaree National Park...!

What is the status of these ponds being covered? Any post-summer updates?

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