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Dynegy Will Move Its Ash
Dynegy Midwest Generation has agreed to begin preparing plans for the removal of 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash generated by its Vermilion Power Station. The ash has been stored in the floodplain of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River since the mid-1950’s and is currently leaking into the river and groundwater. In a June 22, 2021 statement released by Dynegy, a spokesperson wrote:

While we believe certain closure alternatives without removal (e.g., hybrid approach of removing all of the ash from one of the impoundments, placing that ash into other on-site impoundments located further away from the river, and closing the impoundments with a robust cover system) is 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.

Major Win
For years, Eco-Justice Collaborative and Prairie Rivers Network have called attention to the damaging pollution and grave threat at the site, underscoring the need to move the toxic coal ash out of the floodplain. EJC’s  campaign to move the coal ash began in 2014. It included:

Prairie Rivers Network had been advocating removal of the ash since Dynegy first reported its groundwater violations in 2011. The IEPA followed that reporting by issuing a Notice of Violation in July of 2012.

In 2018 and 2019, Earthjustice brought still-pending lawsuits on behalf of Prairie Rivers Network – one in federal court, one before the Illinois Pollution Control Board – to demand that Dynegy comply with environmental laws and stop polluting Illinois’ only National Scenic River.

Without the relentless advocacy of all three groups, the Illinois EPA may never have taken action to protect the river and stop the pollution.

Second Notice of Violation
Triggers Enforcement

The Illinois EPA issued Dynegy a second Notice of Violation in June of 2018 for pollution caused by the coal ash. This Notice occurred after Eco-Justice Collaborative insisted the IEPA paddle the Middle Fork to see, first-hand, the impacts from the coal ash seeps on the river. That violation was referred to the Illinois Attorney General in May 2018. This lead to the June 2021 agreement - three years later.

Coal ash pollution from seeps pools in the river’s floodplain. Photo by Eco-Justice Collaborative
Coal ash pollution from seeps pools in the river’s floodplain. Photo by Eco-Justice Collaborative
Just six feet of unmitagted erosion could destablize the Old East Ash Pit.. EJC. 2018.
Just six feet of unmitagted erosion could destablize the Old East Ash Pit.. EJC. 2018.

What's Next
Dynegy and the Illinois Attorney General’s office have agreed and signed in an Interim Order to begin the process of coal ash removal. This requires Dynegy to:

  • Develop a Safety Emergency Response Plan.
  • Dewater existing ponds.
  • Construct a groundwater collection trench to intercept contaminated water entering the groundwater and river.
  • Begin monthly inspections to monitor and mitigate, if needed, progressive riverbank erosion.

Dynegy is required to have plans ready for a public meeting on or before December 17, 2021.

Protecting the River from a Breach
Ongoing erosion, and a possible breach of one or more of the coal ash pits has been on of our key areas of concern. We have been in continuous dialog with agencies about that over the past few years, asking they address ongoing erosion, including an area along the river identified by Stantec Consulting Engineers, Inc. as requiring immediate action to prevent a breach of the Old East Ash Pit.

The interim order requires monthly inspections of the riverbank and after significant storm events, and mandates temporary protection of riverbanks per an approved emergency response plan, where needed.

Preparing for December
December is just months away. We want to be certain that Dynegy:

  • Responsibly moves the ash.
  • Provides safe conditions for workers.
  • Protects the banks to prevent a breach during ash removal.
  • Considers recycling, rather than landfilling all of the ash.
  • Finds a safe place for any ash that is landfilled (away from water).

Dynegy's consultants previously indicated they believed about 60 percent of the ash could be recyled and encapsulated (versus used for roadbeds, fill for construction, etc.).

The type and location of any landfill proposed to receive coal ash needs to be carefully considered to avoid contact with surface and groundwater.  Any new landfill needs to be lined, constructed according to best practices, and sited away from communities.

Plans and support documentation will be available for review before the meeting.  We'll review them against the new coal ash rules, host public information meetings, and prepare talkng points for oral and written testimony.

It's Not Over Yet
We've reached a major milestone, but everyone will need to stay vigilant to ensure Dynegy does not try to show that their "cap and run" solution is best. Stay tuned to our website for more information as it becomes available!