Illinois AG sues company for coal ash pollution
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[June 24, 2021]
By SARAH MANSUR
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois attorney general
on Tuesday sued a Delaware company that owns the now-closed Vermilion
Power Station over claims of illegal pollution at the former coal plant,
resulting from the storage of coal ash at the site.
The six-count lawsuit against Dynegy Midwest Generation LLC claims the
company’s disposal of coal ash in three unlined pits violated the
state’s Environmental Protection Act by contaminating the groundwater
with toxic pollutants contained in the coal ash, including lead, arsenic
“Dynegy’s actions created a public health risk by contaminating the
area’s groundwater and led to the pollution of Illinois’ only
nationally-recognized scenic river,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said
in a news release. “I am pleased to partner with Vermilion County
State’s Attorney Jacqueline Lacy and am committed to holding Dynegy
accountable for harming our environment and putting the health of
Illinois residents at risk.”
Representatives for Dynegy did not respond to a request for comment.
The groundwater at the site flows into the three coal ash pits, which
contain a total of 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash located at the
site of the former Vermilion Power Station, and discharges into the
Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, which flows into the Vermilion
River. The Vermilion River flows to the east into the Wabash River.
Long-term groundwater monitoring at the plant revealed that
concentrations of certain toxic pollutants — including arsenic, boron,
sulfate and iron — exceeded the groundwater quality standards outlined
in the state’s administrative code.
The lawsuit, in Vermilion County court, was brought at the request of
the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which found in 2018 the
company’s disposal of coal ash violated the state’s groundwater quality
The IEPA referred the violation to the state attorney general’s office
A 2018 study by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice,
Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club revealed that high concentrations
of toxic coal ash pollutants exist in groundwater at 22 of the 24
reporting coal ash sites in Illinois.
Raoul’s office also filed an interim agreed order on Tuesday that would
require Dynegy to prepare a safety response plan for the coal ash ponds
at the site, as well as interim corrective actions that would be subject
to approval by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Corrective actions in the interim order include requiring Dynegy to
create written scopes of work for a groundwater collection trench and
dewatering of the ponds, and to conduct riverbank inspections at the
Dynegy would also be required to prepare reports for public meetings
where the company will discuss plans for removing the coal ash currently
in the ponds.
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IEPA Director John Kim said in a news release that
the agreed interim order is a vital step in addressing long-standing
concerns with the facility’s coal ash ponds.
“The Order establishes necessary timelines for addressing the
impacts on area groundwater and the Middle Fork of the Vermilion
River, and provides for more meaningful public participation while
moving toward the ultimate closure of the facility’s coal ash
ponds,” he said in the release.
The interim order has not yet been approved by a Vermilion County
Vistra Corp, which merged with Dynegy in 2018, issued a statement
Wednesday praising the agreement.
“Since taking ownership of the former Vermilion plant site from
Dynegy in 2018, the company has been clear in its belief that work
is needed — work that has stalled for too long without resolution or
action,” a Vistra spokesperson said in a statement. “That is why we
are pleased to have reached a tentative settlement, pending court
approval, with the State of Illinois to move forward with
environmental protections at the Vermilion plant site.”
“While we believe certain closure alternatives without removal of
all the ash would be protective, given the unique nature of the site
and to resolve the pending dispute with the State of Illinois, we
have agreed to close all of the impoundments by removal,” the
spokesperson added. “Also, given the proximity of the impoundments
to Illinois’ only National Scenic River, the meandering nature of
the river, and the recreational uses of the river, we have agreed to
take the enhanced measures outlined in the proposed Interim Order.”
The attorney general’s lawsuit over the coal ash ponds comes more
than two months after the Illinois Pollution Control Board finalized
the state’s first coal ash impoundment rules that, in some areas,
are stricter than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s coal
Those rules, finalized in April, outline the closure schedule for
coal ash sites, among other changes to state waste disposal
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service
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Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.