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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.

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