SELC and Waccamaw Riverkeeper File Federal Clean Water Act Suit Against Santee Cooper for Coal Ash Pollution at Conway
Today, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit under the United States Clean Water Act on behalf of the Waccamaw Riverkeeper against Santee Cooper for its illegal water pollution from coal ash at its Grainger facility in Conway, South Carolina. For decades, arsenic and other harmful substances from coal ash have polluted groundwater and the Waccamaw River, in violation of Santee Cooper’s water pollution elimination permit.
In February, the Southern Environmental Law Center gave notice to Santee Cooper and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) that it intended to file suit against Santee Cooper for its coal ash and arsenic water pollution at the Grainger facility in Conway. Under the federal Clean Water Act, after the passage of 60 days, suit may be filed under the Clean Water Act against Santee Cooper. In the sixty-day period, DHEC took no enforcement action against Santee Cooper for its illegal pollution, and Santee Cooper did nothing to stop or fix its toxic water pollution at Grainger.
Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, stated: “Santee Cooper continues to pollute ground water, wetlands, and the Waccamaw River with arsenic and other contamination from its coal ash in Conway. Santee Cooper’s coal ash pollution violates federal and state law. We are seeking to enforce the law because Santee Cooper has continued to break the law and DHEC has not enforced it.”
Santee Cooper stores 1.3 million tons of coal ash in unlined pits in wetlands on the Waccamaw River at Conway. At least since the early 1990s, Santee Cooper has known that its coal ash at Conway is discharging high levels of arsenic. The groundwater pollution at Conway has reached 3,228 parts per billion, over 300 times the legal standard, and Santee Cooper has found arsenic in the Waccamaw River. In 2009, DHEC officially notified Santee Cooper that it is operating illegally at Grainger because of its arsenic pollution. Yet, Santee Cooper continued to put more arsenic-laden coal ash in these unlined lagoons and has done nothing to remove the contaminating coal ash or the arsenic pollution.
Christine Ellis, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, stated: “We are asking that Santee Cooper stop polluting the Waccamaw environment and the Conway community with arsenic and other contaminants. Since Santee Cooper will not act, we have been forced to ask the Court to enforce the Clean Water Act to protect our River and our community.”
Santee Cooper has recently proposed to DHEC in a so-called “closure plan” that it be allowed to leave its coal ash in the Waccamaw wetlands in Conway and that it also leave its arsenic pollution in Conway and the Waccamaw River system. At a public hearing on April 23, 2013, members of the public overwhelmingly opposed Santee Cooper’s plan and urged DHEC to require Santee Cooper to move its coal ash out of Conway. Santee Cooper could store the ash at permitted coal ash landfills at its Cross facility.
The Clean Water Act suit was filed in U.S. District Court in South Carolina. The Southern Environmental Law Center has also sought to enforce the S.C. Pollution Control Act against Santee Cooper in state court in Horry County. DHEC has found that Santee Cooper is violating the state act, but has not brought an enforcement action. The Southern Environmental Law Center has also brought suit in state court in Columbia, to force DHEC to issue a new water pollution elimination permit for the Grainger facility, because the existing permit expired over 6 years ago and has no limits for arsenic, mercury, or copper. This Clean Water Act suit is being brought because Santee Cooper is violating the provisions even of the old weaker permit, which remains in place until a new one is issued.
Frank Holleman stated: “Santee Cooper is violating state law. Santee Cooper is violating federal law. Santee Cooper is even violating its old, generous permit. And Santee Cooper has proposed a closure plan that would leave its pollution behind in Conway and that would not deal with its violations of law. We hope Santee Cooper will decide to do the right thing for Conway and the Waccamaw River and remove its coal ash and its arsenic from Conway.”
About the Waccamaw Riverkeeper and Winyah Rivers Foundation:
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.