Horry County Court Rules Against Santee Cooper, Allowing Coal Ash Lawsuit to Proceed
Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation, 919-967-1450
An Horry County court has ruled that conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center may go forward with a lawsuit challenging coal ash contamination at Santee Cooper’s Grainger Generating Station in Conway.
“This decision allows us to move forward to protect the Waccamaw River and Conway and to clean up illegal arsenic and coal ash pollution by Santee Cooper,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This is a significant step towards removing and cleaning up this threat to coastal South Carolina and its environment.”
The suit was filed June 6, the same day the Legislature passed an amendment to the state’s Pollution Control Act abolishing citizens’ right to sue polluters going forward, but preserving the right to enforce past violations of the Act. Santee Cooper moved to dismiss the case, but the Horry County Circuit Court ruled that South Carolina law expressly allows the suit to go forward and does not protect illegal pollution that occurred before the amendment was passed.
The Waccamaw Riverkeeper, Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy filed the lawsuit to stop decades-long contamination of groundwater and the Waccamaw River with pollutants including arsenic, a toxic substance and known carcinogen, at up to 300 times the legal limit.
“Santee Cooper has known about this pollution since the 1990s, has been found in violation by DHEC since 2009, but still has not cleaned up its mess,” said Waccamaw Riverkeeper Christine Ellis. “We are thrilled that the Court has recognized our right to protect the river and all those who rely on it.”
The environmental groups will now be able to review Santee Cooper’s internal documents, question its officials, and collect additional evidence concerning Santee Cooper’s coal ash lagoons and arsenic contamination.
Santee Cooper stores 650,000 tons of coal ash near the Conway marina in unlined lagoons that are located in wetlands on the Waccamaw River, upstream from drinking water intakes and the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. The lagoons are separated from the river by low earthen dikes that are partially submerged when the water in the river is high.
“Coal ash impoundments in the Southeast are long overdue for proper disposal and management of this toxic waste. We hope this decision will lead Santee Cooper to clean up its coal ash waste and legacy of arsenic and water pollution,” said Ulla Reeves, regional program director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Santee Cooper plans to close the Grainger plant and has begun formulating plans to leave the coal ash in the lagoons forever.
“We are committed to insuring that Santee Cooper meets its responsibility to remove its toxic coal ash from Conway and safely dispose of it,” said Dana Beach, director of the Coastal Conservation League. “It is not acceptable for any corporation, public or private, to burden future citizens and taxpayers with this serious threat to public health and the environment.”
A similar suit against South Carolina Electric & Gas, brought by the Southern Environmental Law center on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, was settled this summer when SCE&G agreed to remove all 2.4 million tons of coal ash from its ponds on the Wateree River in lower Richland County.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 50 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
About the Waccamaw Riverkeeper
The Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER® is a program of Winyah Rivers Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed. Our goal is to protect our community's right to fishable, swimmable and drinkable water. We pursue this goal through education and advocacy programs in support of our mission to protect our river resources. These programs are developed and implemented to increase the scientific literacy of our community, including local decision makers, and to engage them in environmental stewardship and planning for river resource protections.
About the Coastal Conservation League
Since 1989, the Coastal Conservation League has been working with communities, businesses, other conservation and citizen groups to protect what we love about the South Carolina coast. From the white sand beaches and pristine marshes to the freshwater swamps and pine savannahs, we focus on the most efficient and effective ways to protect natural habitats, the wildlife that depends on them and the variety of benefits they bring to this state. We also believe that the communities we live in, the air we breathe and the water we depend upon are important and that our quality of life deserves the same high level of attention. To learn more, go to www.scccl.org.
About Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast.