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It’s Not Over Yet … Speak Up for the Middle Fork!
Fact Sheet

You may know that the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act was signed by the Governor in July of 2019. This groundbreaking legislation directed the Illinois EPA to draft detailed rules for regulating coal ash – and, the IEPA is already at work!

The agency is holding six listening sessions across the state to get public input (see locations, below).

The IEPA needs to hear YOUR voice, to ensure they develop rules to prevent coal ash pollution, long-term.  This is your opportunity to tell the Illinois EPA that you want the strongest, most effective rules possible to protect the Middle Fork from the threat of a coal ash spill and ongoing coal ash pollution into our state’s ONLY National Scenic River.

Ideas for Preparing Comments
The Illinois EPA will have a short slide presentation that helps frame the legislation and rule-making process. They will provide you an opportunity to speak three minutes or so (perhaps as much as five minutes), but will ask longer comments to be submitted in writing.  The Illinois EPA is not going to answer questions about a specific site – or other technical questions that may be asked.

Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare comments:

  • Thank the Illinois EPA for holding the listening session, ask them to develop strong rules to protect human health and the environment.
  • Briefly, share your story and your concerns with the coal ash near you. 
    • See the Cap and Run) report for information on coal ash sites across the state.
    • Click here for an overview of coal ash on the Middle Fork.
  • Talk about a detailed item or two from this Fact Sheet that resonates with you, and relate it to your concerns about the coal ash stored in your area.  Be as specific you can be about why rules need to address these concerns the better.  See a few examples, below:
  • Close by thanking the Illinois EPA again.

Sample Comments
Here are a few sample comments that build from the Fact Sheet prepared for these listening sessions. Feel free to pick just one (two, tops) and  make it your own.

Remember. You have a story to tell, and it is important to share it! Your comments don’t need to be long or detailed. There may be other things you want to share that we have not identified. We want to encourage you to speak about what matters most to you, and why you think your concerns need to be addressed in rules.  Here is the Fact Sheet for SB9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act; and here is a link to the bill that was signed by Governor Pritzker.

  • Permanent Protection, Removal – (Example story – I paddle and hike along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion regularly.  I value this river for its scenic beauty, abundant wildlife, and clear-running waters).  I have learned that a cap on the coal ash pits won’t stop ongoing pollution, because the coal ash sits in the floodplain of the Middle Fork, where it is saturated with water. A closure plan that caps the pits, and leaves coal ash in or exposed to rising groundwater is not acceptable at Dynegy’s coal ash pits at the Vermilion Generating Station, nor anywhere else in the state where ash is – or can become wet.  (see: Is coal ash polluting the groundwater? and Have coal ash pollutants been entering the river?)
  • Permanent Protection, Financial Guarantees – (Share your story).  I am glad to see that the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act requires financial guarantees that ensure that the company completes its approved closure plan in a timely manner, and doesn’t walk away leaving the taxpayer on the hook for cleanup in the event of bankruptcy or some other reason.  But who will be responsible for continued monitoring of these impoundments after the 30-year time frame included in the coal ash bill is up? The Illinois EPA told us in June of 2018 that they would require Dynegy to protect our National Scenic River from coal ash pollution and the threat of a coal ash bill in perpetuity.  The language in the bill gives the Illinois EPA the opportunity to increase the length of time the company is responsible for the closure plan, but doesn’t say under what circumstances the agency would lengthen that time or what that ending point would be. We know that the river is moving west towards the coal ash.  If Dynegy is allowed to cap the pits, and stabilize the banks, how can the Illinois EPA ensure that the taxpayer won’t be on the hook for ongoing monitoring of the pits, and repair of bank stabilization, once Dynegy leaves?  We’ve watched the river tear away the gabions installed before.  It seems to me that, under this circumstance, the Illinois EPA should require Dynegy to move its ash from the river’s floodplain.  (see: Could a breach of the walls of one or more of the coal ash pits really happen?)
  • Public Involvement, Access to Information – (Share your story) I am really concerned that Dynegy is going to be allowed to cap its three ash pits, and leave them permanently in the floodplain. I have watched the river move west toward the ash pits, at what seems like an alarmingly fast pace.  When the Illinois EPA held its public hearing for Dynegy’s proposed riverbank stabilization, only limited information was provided for our review.  I could not understand why the Illinois EPA had made a preliminary determination to approve Dynegy’s plan, or who would be responsible, over the long-term, for maintaining the stabilization project. As you develop the coal ash rule, please make sure all relevant documents are posted on a website and links to those documents are included in the Public Notice prepared for site closure hearings for the Middle Fork and other sites across the state. (see: Public Notice for Section 401 Water Quality Certification).
  • Public Involvement, Notice – (Share your story).  We really care what happens to the coal ash.  But the only way we hear about hearings, or meetings like this, is from environmental groups.  You need to do a better job of getting the word out about hearings, so that everyone knows when and where to come to a meeting to provide input on a plan that will forever affect those of us who live in Vermilion County and who enjoy the river.  I’d like to see you send these notices to our local newspapers, radio stations, and our elected officials, who can then send it out by email.  Why can’t you put up signs in areas that have high visibility?  We need to know when the  meetings are, what they are about, and where to get information.  (see: Public Hearing Notice, posted on the Illinois EPA’s website).
  • Comparison of Alternatives – (Share your story).  I have been working to protect the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River for years.  I have learned at public information meetings that Dynegy was required to submit alternative closure plans for review by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.  I have also learned from environmental groups that, until recently, the plan for removal was ambiguous, and did not show where the ash would be taken.  This plan was repeatedly rejected by Dynegy due to cost. It took years for the Illinois EPA to ask Dynegy to look at an alternative that would relocate its ash on its property. I would like to see the rules specify that all alternatives need to be considered by power companies preparing closure plans, and that one of those alternatives should be moving the ash into a properly-lined, monitored landfill on its property.  That landfill should be constructed according to current standards and best practices. (see: How feasible is it to move the coal ash?; Moving the coal ash is the only solution; and Dynegy’s Recommended Closure Plan (Vistra Energy, October 2018)).
  • Permanent Protection, Removal – (Share your story). I am concerned about the coal ash pollution that is  seeping out of Dynegy’s coal ash pits because the coal ash sits in the groundwater.  A cap won’t ever stop this  pollution from coming into contact with the groundwater or river.  I don’t understand why coal ash would ever be allowed to be left in places where it is going to stay wet for that reason.  I think you should require companies to move their ash when it sits in water – or when flooding saturates it.  Unless companies like Dynegy can demonstrate that the ash will always remain dry, it should be removed – plain and simple. I am asking you to draft rules that make removal of coal ash the standard against which everything is compared.  (see: Cap and Run report).
  • Federal Floor – (share your story). Illinois’ coal ash rule has to be at least as protective as the federal coal ash rule in order for the federal government to allow Illinois to regulate coal ash with its own standards and requirements.  But in July the US EPA weakened the federal bill. Here are some examples:  
    • The new rule fails to add boron, a common and dangerous coal ash contaminant, to the list of pollutants that will drive cleanup of groundwater at contaminated sites nationwide. We know that boron has been found at Dynegy’s coal ash pits along the Middle Fork, and that boron causes which poses developmental risks to humans.
    • The new rule also weakens drinking water protection standards for several hazardous chemicals, including lead, cobalt, lithium and molybdenum. We should never put our drinking water at risk.
    • The new rule allows state officials to terminate groundwater monitoring.  But the way we learned about coal ash pollution at the Middle Fork and all across the state is BECAUSE of this requirement.

These are just some of the changes in the US EPA’s new rule that weaken protections.  Because coal ash contains toxic metals that can cause cancer, heart damage, lung disease, kidney disease, and birth defects and even lead to premature death, we need to make sure that Illinois rules are strong.  And I am here tonight to ask you to draft coal ash rules that fully protect Illinois residents, our natural resources, and our water to the maximum extent possible – and not to respond to the requests of industry, who are concerned about their bottom line.  (see:  Trump Administration’s New Rule Weakens Toxic Coal Ash Pollution Safeguard; and Cap and Run report).

Background on the Coal Ash Rule
Senate Bill 9, The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act passed the Illinois General Assembly on May 27, 2019 and was signed into law on July 30. SB9 amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and was sponsored by State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Champaign) sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives.

The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state. Illinois is now the third state in the country to pass legislation providing significant coal ash protections above and beyond federal requirements. The legislation creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup, guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities, and provides Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup. It also requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.

This law requires the Illinois EPA to draft rules that regulate closure and clean up of coal ash pits within eight months, and the Illinois Pollution Control Board to adopt those rules not less than 12 months later.  It also requires extensive public input on the development of the rules.

Deteriorated gabions and eroding riverbank next to the Old East Ash Pit on the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, IL. Coal ash contaminants are seen actively seeping into the river. Taken May 2, 2018. | Pam Richart

Written Comments
Written comments may be submitted to the Illinois EPA at any time while the proposed rules are being drafted. Please direct all written comments to: EPA.CoalAshRules@illinois.gov. See Illinois EPA’s webpage for more.
Five Other Locations Across the State
In addition to this hearing in Danville, the Illinois EPA is holding five others across the state and a webinar to solicit public input. Written comments may also be submitted to Illinois EPA (see links under Written Comments, bel0w).

Peoria (near Edwards & Powerton Power Stations)
Tuesday, September 10 2019, 2-4pm & 6-8pm at Gateway Building
200 Northeast Water Street, Joliet IL
Facebook Event

Granite City (nearby Wood River Power Station)
Wednesday, September 11 2019, 2-4pm & 6-8pm at Granite City Township Hall
2060A Delmar Avenue, Granite City IL
Facebook Event

Danville (near the Vermilion Power Station)
Tuesday, September 17 2019, 2-4pm & 6-8pm at Bremer Auditorium
2000 E. Main Street, Danville IL
Facebook Event

Mt. Vernon
Thursday, September 26 2019, 2-4pm & 6-8pm at Rolland Lewis Community Building
800 S 27th Street, Mt. Vernon IL
Facebook Event

Joliet (near Joliet 9, Joliet 29 and Will County Power Station)
Tuesday, October 8 2019, 2-4pm & 6-8pm at Joliet Jr. College
Weitendorf Agriculture Center
17840 Laraway Road, Joliet IL
Facebook Event

Waukegan (near Waukegan Power Station)
Wednesday, October 9 2019, 2-4pm & 6-8pm at Whittier Elementary School
901 N. Lewis Avenue, Waukegan IL
Facebook Event

Illinois EPA will be hosting a webinar on September 24, 2019 at 10am. Details for how to join the webinar will eventually be posted here.

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