By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project have released a report this month alleging widespread contamination at U.S. coal ash ponds, including some in Wyoming.
Ash ponds are waste piles from the burning of coal. According to the study, 91% of coal-fired power plants are contaminating groundwater by leaking toxic metals from their ash ponds, including arsenic and lead, into groundwater.
The study alleges “pervasive noncompliance” with federal regulations that threatens groundwater, and it identifies 10 plants it says are the most contaminated in the country.
Two of those are PacifiCorp-owned plants in Wyoming — the Naughton Power Plant and Jim Bridger Power Plant, both in southwest Wyoming.
“To save money and avoid liability, nearly all coal plant owners are ignoring key requirements and employing common tricks to avoid mandatory cleanup,” the study’s authors claim.
At Naughton, the study claims that all six units at the plant show some signs of contamination and the whole site lacks proper monitoring.
While PacifiCorp is remediating one of the six ash ponds at the plant and has plans for remediation of a second, the study’s authors say the company isn’t doing enough at two other ponds, which risks groundwater contamination.
At Jim Bridger, the study says there’s compelling evidence of contamination at all three of the plant’s ash ponds.
In a statement on the study, PacifiCorp spokesperson David Eskelsen said it’s inaccurate and misleading.
PacifiCorp’s coal-fired electricity plants aren’t impacting any public sources of drinking water, Eskelsen said in an email. The company isn’t violating federal regulations regarding ash ponds, as implied in the report, and posts its compliance information online.
The remediation steps PacifiCorp is taking at the plants were developed with input from gathered in public meetings in 2019.
“PacifiCorp has and will continue to implement the most effective remediation steps at all of its plants, and statements in the report that PacifiCorp is not pursuing cleanup are not accurate,” Eskelsen said.
The study mentions the Laramie River Station, which is owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative. The authors state that the remediation at the plant is adequate, but one ash pound at the plant “is causing groundwater protection standard exceedances.”
Andy Buntrock, vice president of strategic planning and communications, said the cooperative is in full compliance with federal regulations.
“Basin Electric Power Cooperative serves a membership in different states and remains focused on providing reliable, affordable and responsible power for its members at the end of the line,” Buntrock said. “While doing this we maintain community and environmental stewardship in the areas that we serve through an all-of-the-above energy strategy that nine includes coal, natural gas, renewables and market purchases.”
No Illnesses Traced Back
While the study claims that coal ash is contaminating groundwater at 265 of 292 sites, it doesn’t provide any evidence of illnesses stemming from people drinking contaminated water. The only evidence of illnesses caused by ash pond contamination the report mentions is a group of workers in Tennessee who cleaned up a coal ash pond spill that resulted from a dike failure.
Many of the workers who were involved in that cleanup testified the company didn’t provide masks or protective suits.