Who Can Stop Dynegy? The NPS!

Here's Why the National Park Service Should
Stop Dynegy's Riverbank Project

Click to read EJC's letter to the National Park Service

Background
Dynegy, recently submitted a permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approval to install over a third of a mile of rip rap along bank of the Middle Fork, immediately upstream from Kickapoo State Park.  This massive project is the first step in Dynegy’s plan to cover and permanently leave 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal in unlined, leaking pits along the river.  River advocates believe that Dynegy should move their ash to an upland, properly lined facility.  By doing so, only short-term, interim and targeted bank reinforcement would be necessary to protect the river from the coal ash. 

This massive project is the first step in Dynegy's plan to cap and leave 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash in the floodplain of Illinois' only National Scenic River.  Tell the National Park Service they should follow requirements of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and withhold their approval. Click here to send your letter.

 

Because the Middle Fork is a designated National Scenic River,  Dynegy’s proposal must receive approval from the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS, along with the the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) as the state administrator, are bound by Sections 7(a) and 10(a) of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to protect and enhance the river’s free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstanding remarkable values for which the river gained its designation. These values include scenic, recreational, ecological, geologic and historic resources.

But the project does none of these things.  Instead, it would:

  • Artificially constrain the river’s free flowing condition.  As planned, 11,500 cubic yards of rip-rap and stone toe protection, and an additional 2,000 cubic yards of soil would be placed below the ordinary high water mark for a distance of 2,000 linear feet.
  • Degrade water quality in the river. The proposal would require extensive excavation of soils and sediments within the bed and bank of the river. These materials are known to be contaminated with heavy metals and would be conveyed downstream.
  • Harm recreational use of the river.  Construction of the project would take place from the river during prime recreational months when the water levels are low.  While plans to construct a portage are under consideration, it is unlikely that most using the river will be willing to carry canoes, kayaks and gear for over 1/3 of a mile to avoid construction.  And those who do may choose never to return to the Middle Fork.
  • Degrade the scenic value of the river. Adding 2,000 feet of white, limestone rip rap along the west bank of the river next to the coal ash pits disrupts the natural character of the river, which is one of the reasons it received its designation.

Click here to learn more.

Dynegy's plan wold add another 2000 feet of white, limestone rip-rap along the west bank of the Middle Fork in an attempt to keep the river from breaching abutting coal ash pits. This project would harm the river, impact recreation, and degrade the scenic value of this National Scenic River. Photo by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative. 2018.

Make a Difference.  Write the National Park Service Today!
The National Park Service has already gone on record expressing concerns over riverbank stabilization ultimately installed by Dynegy in 2017. In June of 2016, they wrote in their FINAL SECTION 7(a) EVALUATION AND DETERMINATION prepared for Dynegy's 485-foot long project along the New East Ash Pit:

“The location of the fly ash disposal ponds is not consistent with the purpose of the River and the removal of the ash ponds, as well as associated embankments, streamside pump house, and non-operational infrastructure that remains within the river corridor would protect and enhance the River and its values.”

In that same letter, the NPS concluded that Dynegy's 485-foot long project was not fully consistent with Section 10(a) of The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and recommended the following actions be taken (see page 10):

  1. Remove the coal ash pits.
  2. Remove the rock protection installed for stabilization, when the ash pits are relocated to restore the riverbank to a more natural condition.
  3. Remove the pump house, downstream of the New East Ash Pit, which no longer is functional.
  4. Remove the coal plant stack.
  5. Continue coordination between stakeholders and agencies regarding the long-term restoration potential at the Dynegy site and the need for a comprehensive approach to riverbank management.

We agree with this assessment, and hope you do, too.

Dynegy's most recent plan to build another 2,000 feet of wall means there would be rock wall along the west bank of this National Scenic River that is nearly 1/2 mile long. The plan also would provide tacit endorsement for leaving 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash within the floodplain of the river, a condition that is unnecessary and antithetical to the Middle Fork’s National Scenic River status. The National Park Service cannot determine that this project, with its attendant impacts, is consistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

We need you to give the NPS the support it needs to withhold its approval.  Please use this form to send a letter to the National Park Service today.  While you can send the form letter, it will have far greater impact if you use these talking points to personalize your letter.

Dynegy Wants to Cap, Leave, and Run

Cap and Run
Pam and Lan Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative were interviewed this morning by Mike Nowak of the Mike Nowak Show with Peggy Malecki to share updates on the Protect the Middle Fork Campaign and initiatives to stope the growing coal ash crisis in Illinois.

  • Here's where you can go to help stop Dynegy's plan to leave 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash in the floodplain of the state's only National Scenic River.  Tell the National Park Service they need to follow the law, and withhold their approval of a massive riverbank stabilization project.

Enjoy the post that Mike wrote before today's interview.

Ridding Illinois of Toxic Coal Ash
by Mike Nowak, the Mike Nowak Show
January 27, 2019 – On April 29 of last year, I wrote that the

Middle Fork of the Vermilion is the state’s only officially designated wild and scenic river. Unfortunately, it is now being acknowledged for a more dubious distinction. On April 9, it was named one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018 by the American Rivers organization. Incidentally, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Lan Richart outside of former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s office in November, 2018

This was an introduction to a conversation with Pam and Lan Richart, co-directors of the Eco-Justice Collaborative (EJC), and long-time friends of The Mike Nowak Show with Peggy Malecki. At the time, they were spreading the word about some 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash, sometimes known as coal combustion residuals or CCR in unlined, leaking pits in the floodplain along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion.

The story goes back fifty-five years to the construction of the Vermilion Power Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, that was built by Illinois Power along the west bank of the Vermilion River in 1956. It was purchased by the energy company Dynegy in 2000, which operated the plant until 2011, when it was decommissioned. In April of 2018, Vistra Energy Corp. merged with Dynegy, with the new company operating under the name Vistra. Are you still with me?

Coal ash is already contaminating ground water in the area, something that was documented by Dynegy itself. That lead the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to issue a Notice of Violation in July of 2012. Subsequently, Dynegy proposed what is being called a “cap and leave” solution. They want to permanently cap the coal ash, “stabilize” the nearby river bank, wipe their hands and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

But with water already seeping into and through the coal ash, that’s not acceptable to people who believe–and rightly so–that the river banks will eventually be compromised anyway. So, the folks at EJC continue to agitate for a real solution. A little more than a month after we spoke to Pam, Lan and Andrew Rehn, water resources engineer with Prairie Rivers Network,  EJC convened a “People’s Hearing” June 11, 2018, at Bremer Conference Center, Danville Area Community College.

Then, in November, Eco-Justice Collaborative and the Protect the Middle Fork Citizens Group joined Prairie Rivers Network, the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club in Springfield as they released “Cap and Run: Toxic Coal Ash Left Behind by Big Polluters Threatens Illinois Water” a new report on groundwater pollution across Illinois due to toxic coal ash left behind by Big Polluters.

Among the findings of the report:

  • There are more than two dozen coal ash dumpsites spread across Illinois that contain over 80 individual ash ponds and landfills. Almost all of these ash dumps sit right next to rivers and lakes, separated from them only by thin earthen embankments.  They are disproportionately located in communities with limited resources but pose a threat that extends far and wide.
  • The vast majority of coal ash ponds in Illinois are unlined.  Just two of thirty-five reporting Illinois coal ash ponds have liners. This means there is little or nothing stopping the toxic pollution in those ash ponds from leaching into groundwater.
  • These dumps are leaching toxic pollution into groundwater.  Our report shows that 22 of 24 power plants for which we have groundwater monitoring data are leaching unsafe levels of dangerous pollution into Illinois waters.  Coal ash pollutants at unsafe levels in Illinois groundwater include but are not limited to arsenic, boron, cadmium, cobalt, lead, selenium, and thallium.

Middle Fork of the Vermilion River

The first week of 2019 found EJC fighting the latest proposal by Vistra/Dynegy to “solve” the problem. This past summer, Dynegy Midwest Generation submitted an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for riverbank stabilization. Remember that? It’s the first step in “cap and leave.” EJC responded on January 7 with a detailed comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, objecting to the plan.

EJC argues that it would:

  • Disturb soils and riverbed sediments contaminated by leaching coal ash chemicals, degrade water quality and redistribute coal ash pollutants downstream
  • Disrupt nearly 5 acres of stream bank and stream bed for the 9 to 12 month construction period, with the potential to adversely impact the river and its biological systems.
  • Alter the stream channel, resulting in changes to hydraulics that could have cumulative negative effects on areas immediately downstream.
  • Add over 1/3 mile of hardscape that could have lasting impacts on downstream flow dynamics, bedload and sediment transport.
  • Require construction in the river (as much as 70 feet into the channel), because there is insufficient room between the channel and the coal ash impoundments to place equipment.
  • Degrade the scenic value of the river by placing 2,000 feet of rip rap along this otherwise undeveloped river corridor.

EJC suggests that Dynegy, which reportedly is planning to dispose of about 60% of the ash, remove ALL of it, and recycle into products like concrete.

This battle is a long way from over. But in the era of climate change, which we discussed last week with MWRD Commisioner Debra Shore, rain events in the Midwest are unpredictable, and 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash sitting in a flood plain is a recipe for disaster.

Pam and Lan Richart join us again this morning to continue the story. Meanwhile, you can take action by writing to your local elected officials to urge them to protect what’s left of our clean water.

Cap and Run: Illinois’ Coal Ash Crisis

Cap and Run:  Illinois' Coal Ash Crisis
by Tony Heath, Eco-Justice Collaborative

Earlier this week, Eco-Justice Collaborative (EJC) and the Protect the Middle Fork Citizens Group joined Prairie Rivers Network, the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club in Springfield as they released “Cap and Run: Toxic Coal Ash Left Behind by Big Polluters Threatens Illinois Water” a new report on groundwater pollution across Illinois due to toxic coal ash left behind by Big Polluters.

The report, released Wednesday, found that 22 of the 24 power plants, for which data was available, have contaminated groundwater with unsafe levels of on or more toxic pollutants. The Vermilion Power Station is one of them. The report includes data, from Dynegy and other utilities which show boron, arsenic, sulfate, and other pollutants exceed the legal and safe level.

Press Event Highlights the Middle Fork and
Other Coal Ash Campaigns Across Illinois

Our day at the State Capitol began with a press event where community members, activists, and members of the press overflowed into the hallway from the packed "Blue Room", where the November 28 press conference was held.

Press Conference, Cap and Run, Illinois Coal Ash Crisis

Lan Richart, Co-Director, Eco-Justice Collaborative, and members of the press pack into the Blue Room to record the release of “Cap & Run”, a new report highlighting the impacts of coal ash impoundments on Illinois Groundwater. Photo by Eco-Justice Collaborative

Representatives from Prairie Rivers Network and Earthjustice, along with community members from Alton, Peoria, Waukegan, and Vermilion County, presented the findings of the “Cap and Run” report and shared their stories of how coal ash has impacted their lives and harmed their communities.  

Vincent Koers of Danville (Vermilion County), represented the Protect the Middle Fork Citizens Advocacy Group.  He called on the Illinois EPA to hold a public hearing on Dynegy's proposed closure plan to

  • Ensure that the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River is permanently protected from the threat of coal ash;
  • Residents have a voice in a controversial decision that could permanently leave the ash in place; and
  • Taxpayers are not ultimately left "on the hook" for monitoring, maintaining, and repairing coal ash pits and proposed riverbank armoring - or cleanup, in the event of a coal ash spill.

Senator Scott Bennet spoke in support of the recommendations in the report, urging his colleagues to address Illinois’ coal ash crisis in 2019.  The Middle Fork runs through his District. Senator Dave Koehler also was present to show his support, and although Representative Mike Marron could not attend the press conference, he prepared a statement asking the General Assembly to make coal ash regulations a priority next session.

Communities affected by coal ash share their stories a the press conference releasing the report "Cap and Run"

Vincent Koers from Protect the Middle Fork Citizens Advisory Group and community members from across Illinois share their stories of how coal ash has impacted them. Photo by Eco-Justice Collaborative

Letter / Petition Delivery to Governor Rauner
After the Press Conference, EJC, along with members of Protect the Middle Fork Group, led a march upstairs to the Governor’s office. Our purpose was to present Governor Rauner with over 2000 letters and petitions calling out the impacts of Dynegy's "cap and run" plan, along with public comments and a transcript from the People’s Hearing EJC held earlier this year. These materials call for full ash removal in order to permanently protect the river and Vermilion County from ongoing pollution and the threat of a coal ash spill. Many of these letters also call on the Illinois EPA and Governor to hold a public hearing on this controversial project.

EJC and Protect the Middle Fork briefly speak with Governor Bruce Rauner

Members of Protect the Middle Fork & Gov Rauner meet outside his office. Photo by Eco-Justice Collaborative

As luck would have it, the Governor himself was in the atrium outside of his office when we arrived. Caught off guard, the Governor refused to talk with us and fled into his office when we tried to deliver the letters and other materials to him. Lan Richart and community members from Protect the Middle Fork followed the Governor into his office to make sure he heard what they had to say, but Governor Rauner still wouldn’t listen! Momentarily rebuffed, the activists re-grouped in the atrium outside of the Governor’s office where Lan spoke for the gathered press and community members about the importance and urgency of cleaning up the toxic legacy of coal ash that has been left where it can contaminate Illinois’ ground and surface water sources, the importance of public participation, and the urgent need to remove coal ash from the banks of the Vermilion and place it far from the river.

Cap and Run - Eco-Justice delivers materials addressed to Governor Rauner supporting relocation of coal ash and asking for a public hearing

Lan speaks to supporters and the Press outside Governor Rauner’s office.  Photo by Eco-Justice Collaborative

Once we’d re-grouped, a second effort was made to deliver the transcripts and letters to the Governor and this time it was a success! The Governor  still wouldn’t meet with us, but all materials were delivered to one of his chief aides who promised Governor Rauner would see them.

Having successfully done what we had come to do, we left the State Capitol Building and went to the offices of the Illinois Environmental Council who had graciously offered to host us as well as our partners from around the state.  Sierra Club provided lunch, as we celebrated and refueled. 

The Fight to Solve Illinois' State-Wide Coal Ash Crisis Has Just Begun
As Andrew Rehn of Prairie Rivers Network said, “this is an inflection point in the fight against coal ash. Illinois has the opportunity to address this problem now, to set an example for other states around the country, to protect our waters, and ensure environmental justice for the communities here in Central Illinois, around the state, and around the country who have been impacted by the toxic legacy of coal ash.”

Today’s success was a result of the tireless support of people like you. It’s time that we ask our senators and state legislators to take coal ash seriously by providing permanent protection, guaranteeing communities have a voice in how coal ash pits are closed, and ensuring polluters are the ones paying to clean up their mess.

Take Time to Help Protect the Middle Fork!
We need your help. Here are three easy, but important things you can do:

  •  Sign this letter asking the Illinois EPA to hold a hearing on Dynegy's "cap and run" plan.
  • Sign this letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking them to hold a hearing on Dynegy's riverbank armoring plan that will harm the Middle Fork, one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the Midwest.
  • Sign this petition, calling on the General Assembly to address Illinois' coal ash crisis.

 

Speak Up for Illinois Water!

Demand Illinois Officials Act on Illinois'
Growing Coal Ash Crisis

A new report released by Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Prairie Rivers Network, and Sierra Club shows there is severe groundwater contamination from coal ash at Illinois Power Plants.  Coal ash is the waste left over from burning coal at power plants, and it can cause cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive problems.

For those familiar with coal ash dumped in the Middle Fork of the Vermilion, Illinois’ National Scenic River, the conclusions reached in this report are not a surprise:

  • Twenty-two of 24 of Illinois’ reporting coal plants have dumpsites leaking unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in the groundwater. Unsafe levels of one or more of the following pollutants was found at 18 of these power plant sites: arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, cobalt,  lead, lithium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and thallium. 
  • But this pollution is not limited to groundwater contamination. According to information on file with Illinois EPA, Illinois coal plants also dump millions of pounds of pollution into lakes, rivers and streams each year.

Listen to stories of some of the people affected by toxic ash dumped in waterways in their communities, then add your voice to the growing number of people demanding action from Illinois legislators.

It’s Time We Demand Illinois’ Officials Address this Coal Ash Crisis

Eco-Justice Collaborative and other groups from across the state are calling for State officials to put protections in place to stop the pollution from coal ash permanently; ensure the public has a voice in how coal ash impoundments are closed near their communities; and hold polluters accountable for the toxic messes they have created.

Will You Add Your Voice?
Simply fill in your contact information below, and click next to send a letter that urges your State Senator and State Representative to make solving Illinois’ growing coal ash crisis a priority next year.

Take Three Action Steps

Take a Moment to Help Protect Illinois' National Scenic River!
Here are Three Actions You Can Take

Texas giant Vistra Energy is finalizing plans for closing its three coal ash pits at the closed Vermilion Power Station in east-central Illinois that will leave 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic waste in the floodplain of Illinois' only National Scenic River.

Here are three things you can do to ensure that Illinois residents have a voice in ensuring the Middle Fork and Vermilion County residents and businesses are protected, in perpetuity, from coal ash pollution and the threat of a coal ash spill.


Send a letter to the Illinois EPA
Shouldn't stakeholders in east-central Illinois have the opportunity to evaluate the Vistra's closure plan, ask about the viability of other alternatives that were dismissed, and bring in experts to give input? The IEPA is considering holding hearings (when requested) on other coal ash closure plans - so why not this one?  Send a letter today to IEPA Director Alec Messina asking him to hold a public hearing.  Please personalize your letter so that it has the greatest impact.

Join us in Springfield for the first Coal Ash Lobby Day
Coal ash is the toxic waste left over after coal is burned at a power plant. It contains dangerous chemicals that cause cancer, developmental disorders and reproductive problems. Coal ash is one of coal plants’ greatest sources of pollution that impacts our land, our water, and our health.

Can you join EJC, the Protect the Middle Fork Citizens Advocacy Group, and other community groups dealing with coal ash pollution from power plants for this first-ever coal ash lobby day?  We will meet at the Capitol Building in Springfield on November 28 at 11:00 am, and talk with state legislators about how coal ash affects communities across Illinois.  We also will deliver letters, petitions, and other information from our June 2018 People's Hearing, calling on Governor Rauner to ensure Vistra moves its coal ash out of the floodplain of Illinois' National Scenic River.

Click for a tentative schedule and RSVP here so we know you are coming and can send more information.


Have you sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers yet?
We've just learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be issuing its Public Notice for Vistra Energy's riverbank armoring project shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday. The wall is required for Vistra's plan to cap the ash and permanently leave it in the floodplain of the Middle Fork River. This notice from the Army Corps will start the clock for receiving public comments.

Vistra's proposal is an assault on the Middle Fork, and will significantly impact water quality, aquatic life, recreation, and the esthetic values of this National Scenic River.  If you have not yet done so, please send a letter to the Army Corps asking them to hold a public hearing. We will be soliciting public comments from you in December, once we have reviewed Vistra's final submittals.


Why should you donate to Eco-Justice Collaborative?  We're glad you asked!

For the past 2 1/5 years we've been working to bring a clean energy platform to Illinois residents and to protect Illinois' only National Scenic River from coal ash pollution.  We're a small non-profit based in Champaign, Illinois, and depend on gifts from you to help fund our work.

We hope you'll consider making an end-of-year donation to EJC. Your support is most appreciated.

Pam and Lan, Co-Directors
Eco-Justice Collaborative