Southern Environmental Law Center: Santee Cooper Closure Plan is Illegal and Destined to Fail
The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed comments demonstrating that Santee Cooper’s closure plan for its coal ash at its Grainger facility in Conway, S.C., is unlawful, is based on a mistaken geologic assumption, leaves arsenic and coal ash in Conway, and is destined to fail. The comments were submitted to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on behalf of the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and SELC.
Santee Cooper has dumped 1.3 million tons of coal ash into unlined pits in a wetland next to the Waccamaw River in the center of Conway. Santee Cooper has known for years that the coal ash is polluting the Waccamaw River system with arsenic. In recent years, the arsenic pollution has reached 3228 ppb, over 300 times the legal limit. In 2009, DHEC determined that Santee Cooper is violating the S.C. Pollution Control Act because of its coal ash arsenic pollution at Grainger.
Santee Cooper has shuttered the Grainger plant and proposes to leave the coal ash in the wetland in Conway, beside the Waccamaw River, forever. Santee Cooper’s closure plan proposes to build a slurry wall over one mile long around the coal ash. The wall will connect with the Bear Bluff Formation; Santee Cooper’s plan assumes that the Bear Bluff Formation is made of impermeable clay and will block the movement of water. Santee Cooper’s plan does not clean up its arsenic pollution.
The Southern Environmental Law Center’s comments establish:
**Santee Cooper’s proposed coal ash landfill violates South Carolina’s landfill statute, Horry County’s zoning ordinance, the South Carolina Pollution Control Act, and the federal Clean Water Act.
**The Bear Bluff Formation is made of fossils, sand, silt, and limestone, and is not made of clay. It is porous and would allow the movement of groundwater and arsenic pollution into groundwater and the Waccamaw River.
**In other closure plans for coal ash facilities in South Carolina, DHEC has required a private utility to remove the coal ash, place it in a permitted landfill, and remove contaminated soil. Santee Cooper is asking to be treated differently and to provide Conway less protection than other communities.
**Santee Cooper’s plan is destined to fail because it will not contain the arsenic pollution or prevent the movement of water. Similar projects have failed in other parts of the country. Santee Cooper has shown no example of a project like this one that has worked.
**Santee Cooper’s plan is more expensive than moving the coal ash to a lined landfill, because the plan uses unproven technology and Santee Cooper has inflated the costs of moving the ash.
Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, stated: “Santee Cooper can remove its coal ash and arsenic, restore a beautiful cypress wetland in the center of Conway, and add to Conway’s reputation as an eco-tourism destination. Instead, Santee Cooper proposes to leave coal ash and arsenic in the center of Conway forever, piled up in a large landfill that will pollute the Waccamaw River system for years to come. We hope DHEC will require Santee Cooper to obey the law and do what is right for Conway and the Waccamaw: move its coal ash and its arsenic to a legal, lined landfill.”
DHEC has been receiving public comments on Santee Cooper’s closure plan. At a public hearing in Conway in April, residents of Conway objected to Santee Cooper’s plan and urged Santee Cooper to move its coal ash and arsenic out of the wetland. Conway City Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging DHEC to reject Santee Cooper’s proposal and to require Santee Cooper to remove the coal ash and place it in an appropriate landfill. DHEC will now consider the comments and decide what action to take.
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.