Coal Ash

SELC’s three-year legal effort to protect local drinking water from coal ash rose to national prominence following the devastating spill on the Dan River.

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Photo © Waterkeeper Alliance

2008 Coal Waste Spill in Tennessee: The catastrophic waste spill at the TVA plant in Tennessee underscored the urgent need for regulation of coal waste.

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Photo © Jerry Greer

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Dominion sued by SELC and Sierra Club over coal ash leaks in Chesapeake, VA More »

Dangerous pollutants from coal ash pits at Dominion Virginia Power’s Chesapeake Energy Center are contaminating the groundwater and popular recreation areas in the Elizabeth River, alleges a new suit brought by SELC and the Sierra Club today

Last December, SELC and the Sierra Club provided Dominion with a notice of intent to sue, a requirement under the Clean Water Act that provides the utility time to address the problems and alerts the state environmental agency to the alleged violations. Neither Dominion nor the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has attempted to remedy the problem over the past three months.

For over a decade, both Dominion and DEQ have known that the more than one million cubic yards of coal ash stored at the Chesapeake site are illegally leaking high levels of arsenic, cobalt, sulfide, and other dangerous pollutants into the groundwater and two waterways popular for recreational activities—the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and Deep Creek. In the last three years alone, concentrations of arsenic, a known carcinogen, have been found in the groundwater near the site at levels as high as 30 times the state standard. 

The Chesapeake power plant closed its coal-burning units at the end of last year, and the facility now stores over sixty years of coal ash waste onsite in unlined, leaking pits and a landfill built on top of the old pits. Dominion has submitted to the state environmental agency its closure plan for the ash storage facilities at the site, which proposes to continue indefinitely the decades-long contamination by leaving all coal ash in place and merely covering it with plastic and dirt. If approved by the state, the plan would only continue the long legacy of polluting the Elizabeth River.

“While other utilities in the South are leading the way by responsibly moving their coal ash into lined, dry storage away from waterways, Dominion has made no plans to stop this documented coal ash pollution.” said Deborah Murray, Senior Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center.

Read the SELC press release on the lawsuit

Read the Virginian-Pilot article by Aaron Applegate (March 19, 2015)

Read the Bay Journal article by Leslie Middleton (March 23, 2015)

View All Updates »

Regulation of Coal Combustion Waste

Protecting Our Water and Our Health from Coal Ash

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more lagoons on its banks holding slurries of coal ash from power plants. Containing hundreds of thousands of tons of toxin-laden waste, these pools are often unlined and have leaked arsenic, mercury, thallium, selenium, and other contaminants into the rivers and the underlying groundwater for years, if not decades. 

Putting a Stop to Years of Pollution

SELC is using its law and policy skills to force our region’s utilities to clean up their waste sites and store coal ash in ways that protect water quality and people's health. When state and federal governments did not act following a devastating 2008 spill in Kingston, TN, we began enforcing the law ourselves. 

In North Carolina, our lawsuits have produced cleanup commitments at four Duke Energy sites, and SELC is representing a number of groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits to require clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites throughout the state.

In South Carolina, a combination of legal action and public pressure from SELC prompted all three of the state’s major utilities to begin a significant cleanup to clean up leaking coal ash lagoons on South Carolina’s rivers - a historic accomplishment for clean water in South Carolina.

In Virginia, we uncovered decades of coal ash pollution leaking from two different Dominion Virginia Power sites: the Possum Point Power Plant along the Potomac River 30 miles south of Washington D.C., and the Chesapeake Energy Center along the Elizabeth River. SELC is working to make sure Dominion is held responsible for cleaning up these waterways. 

In Tennessee, we filed a notice of intent against Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for coal ash at the Gallatin Plant polluting the Cumberland River, which provides drinking water for 1.2 million residents downstream in Gallatin, Nashville, Rutherford County, and Williamson County. Furthermore, TVA is still cleaning up in Kingston, TN after the biggest coal ash spill in the country occurred six years ago.  

Advocating Tougher Standards

Despite the dangers revealed by the catastrophic Kingston spill in 2008 and the 2014 Dan River spill in NC, the EPA released long-awaited federal coal ash protections in late 2014 that fail to adequately protect communities and waterways. This rule establishes only a bare minimum of protection, so we will continue to enforce stronger federal and state clean water and anti-pollution laws to protect rivers and communities from the dangers of coal ash.

Is There a Coal Ash Waste Site Near You?

To help Southerners find out more about risks to their communities, SELC and its partners launched SoutheastCoalAsh.org, a website that provides an interactive map and database of 100 coal-fired power plants and their coal ash impoundments.