Press Release | September 18, 2012

Conservation Groups Sue to Require DHEC to Issue Santee Cooper Coal Ash Permit

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit today against the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to force it to do its job and issue a new Clean Water Act permit for Santee Cooper’s Grainger coal ash lagoons on the Waccamaw River in Conway.  The Center filed the suit for the Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER(r) and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.  The suit challenges DHEC’s special treatment of Santee Cooper that has protected Santee Cooper from new pollution treatments, and the fact that DHEC has left it up to Santee Cooper, the polluter, to decide whether to issue a new permit.

Santee Cooper stores 650,000 tons of coal ash in old lagoons in wetlands on the banks of the Waccamaw River in Conway.  DHEC and Santee Cooper have known for years that the lagoons are polluting the Waccamaw and groundwater with arsenic, as well as mercury and copper.  Every five years, DHEC is required to re-examine and renew Clean Water Act permits for industries that pollute waterways, like Santee Cooper.

Santee Cooper’s Clean Water Act permit for its Conway coal ash lagoons was issued 10 years ago in 2002 and expired in September 2006, six years ago.  Yet, DHEC has yet to review and issue a new permit for Santee Cooper’s coal ash lagoons, and thereby has allowed Santee Cooper to continue to use old technology that pollutes the Waccamaw with arsenic, mercury, copper and other pollutants.  At the same time, DHEC has shut out the public, who have the right to review, comment upon, and contest permits when they are issued.

Santee Cooper and DHEC have communicated about the permit, and DHEC has indicated to Santee Cooper that it would issue the permit if Santee Cooper wanted it to.  Santee Cooper has stated:  “We don’t want to push the permitting.”

While DHEC was allowing Santee Cooper, a fellow state agency, to operate without a new permit that would restrict pollution, it has issued a permit for at least one privately-owned utility and released it for public comment.  That new permit resulted in public scrutiny of the private utility’s permit and a subsequent challenge of the permit.  DHEC’s failure to issue a permit for Grainger has protected Santee Cooper from the same scrutiny.

Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, stated:  “DHEC is failing to carry out the law.  It is not protecting the public, Conway, and the Waccamaw Rive, but instead has allowed Santee Cooper to avoid a new permit.  We are asking the Court to order DHEC to do its job.”

Christine Ellis, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, stated:  “The Waccamaw River is one of our state’s great natural resources.  It is a shame that DHEC is not protecting the public and the River, and that DHEC is not working to prevent Santee Cooper’s pollution.”

Ulla Reeves, Regional Program Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, stated:  “In order to move toward clean energy in the South, state agencies like DHEC must first follow the law, issue new permits, and require new technology to clean up pollution at existing facilities. DHEC is unacceptably allowing Santee Cooper to stick to its old ways of burning coal that pollutes the Waccamaw River.”

The suit was filed in South Carolina state court in Columbia.

The Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER(r) 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.

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.

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