McFeely: EPA says Coal Creek Station ash pit in violation of federal rules
'Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air.'
FARGO — The Environmental Protection Agency denied a request by the owners of Coal Creek Station in North Dakota to continue dumping toxic ash into an inadequately lined pit near the power plant.
It was one of six denials the EPA issued recently as the federal agency cracks down on violators of a 2015 ash rule that often went ignored by energy companies.
The impact of the ruling isn't known. North Dakota-based Rainbow Energy, which owns Coal Creek Station, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Coal Creek is a coal-fired power plant located near Underwood, N.D.
Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal in power plants. While some ash might be recycled into other products like concrete or drywall, according to the EPA, much of it is disposed of in surface impoundments or landfills. The EPA estimates about 130 million tons of coal ash is produced nationwide every year.
"Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air," according to information on the EPA website.
EPA Coal Creek Proposed Denial by Mike McFeely on Scribd
The EPA's denial is part of the agency's "crackdown" on plants in violation of the 2015 rules, according to the website Energy News (published by Twin Cities-based non-profit Fresh Energy, an advocate for clean energy), which wrote "that pits without legally compliant liners needed to stop receiving coal ash by April 2021, but many companies continued dumping ash in such pits and ponds, with more than 60 seeking extensions to the deadline. The EPA began a series of enforcement actions last year."
Rainbow Energy, which purchased Coal Creek Station from Minnesota-based Great River Energy in 2022 with the intent of using carbon-capture technology to keep the plant viable, continued Great River's effort to obtain an extension to the April 2021 deadline.
But the EPA cited four reasons why it was proposing to deny the request.
- An inadequate groundwater monitoring network.
- Evidence of a potential release from the impoundment and insufficient information to support the alternative source of demonstration.
- Inadequate demonstration of meeting location restrictions.
- Inadequate documentation for the design and performance of the impoundment liner.
According to Energy News "the EPA tested samples of a liner installed in 1991 and repaired multiple times. It found that the liner was thinner than current requirements and made of materials that raised concerns."
In denying the extension, the EPA proposed that Coal Creek Station take action to meet the rules standards and submit a new application no later than four months after the agency issues a final decision or ceases to use the ash pit found in violation.
Energy News wrote that "the ash pits will have to close after going through a public comment period and final EPA decision, assuming the EPA upholds their recent orders in final rulings. The decisions do not mandate how the pits must be closed, but the federal rules say coal ash repositories cannot be closed with ash contaminating groundwater, and the recent decisions would seemingly indicate that the companies could not legally leave the ash in place in these unlined or poorly lined pits."