Alabama coal ash to be recycled, but questions remain
For years, we’ve fought alongside our partners to protect Alabama’s iconic Mobile-Tensaw Delta from 21 million tons of toxic coal ash sitting on the water’s edge in Alabama Power’s leaky, unlined coal ash pit. This primitive storage method endangers Alabamians and the delta by permanently leaving dangerous contaminants like lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic submerged in the groundwater of “America’s Amazon.”
Our persistent advocacy for removing ash from the riverbank is gaining momentum. Last week, a coal ash recycling company and Alabama Power announced plans to build a facility at the Plant Barry site capable of sustainably recycling 700,000 tons of coal ash per year for use in concrete products. While Alabama Power will not confirm whether all the ash will be recycled, this is a major shift in the company’s position, and we should all be encouraged by the prospect of less coal ash threatening the delta.
While this is great news, there are still several unresolved questions. Since proposing the recycling plant, Alabama Power has stated publicly that it does not plan to amend its closure plan or its state closure permit. These both call for burying its coal ash in the leaky pit, so the extent of the cleanup remains to be seen. As we have asserted in our pending case filed on behalf of Mobile Baykeeper, the closure plan violates EPA’s Coal Combustion Residuals Rule. SELC’s plan is to keep pushing in our federal case to get a determination that burying the ash in place is illegal.
If keeping the pressure on monopoly utilities to do the right thing works in other Southern states, it ought to work here in Alabama.Barry Brock, Alabama Office Director
Meanwhile, we are also waiting for crucial enforcement actions from EPA.
First, EPA proposed denying Alabama’s coal ash permitting program last August. The agency received thousands of comments from people who deserve clean water, not coal ash pollution, supporting EPA’s stance.
A final decision on denying Alabama’s faulty program and permits could come any day. Last March, EPA put Alabama Power on notice that the company’s plan to leave the ash in place at Plant Barry “potentially violated” federal standards. Although EPA and Alabama Power are in discussions, we remain hopeful that EPA will reject the plan to close the pit with the toxic ash in place and take appropriate enforcement action.
Throughout the South, we’ve seen litigation and advocacy create meaningful impact. In South and North Carolina, SELC’s work resulted in utilities safely recycling coal ash into cement and concrete. If keeping the pressure on monopoly utilities to do the right thing works in other Southern states, it ought to work here in Alabama.
Thank you for supporting our hard work, the people of Alabama, and the clean water we depend on.