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WVRC and Partners Rein In Water Pollution at West Virginia Coal Plants

posted Aug 4, 2014, 8:50 AM by David Lillard

AEP Owned Plants to Pay Fines, Clean Up Coal Pollution

Charleston, WV – Today, American Electric Power (AEP) entered into a settlement with numerous citizens groups over water pollution from three of the company’s coal-fired power plants in West Virginia. The citizen groups found that the John E. Amos, Kammer and Mitchell plants are repeatedly discharging pollution into local rivers and streams in excess of limits set by the Clean Water Act (CWA). The groups involved in the suit include the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Sierra Club.

“It is the responsibility of companies like AEP to clean up their own mess, and today we’ve ensured that they'll do just that,” said Bill Price, West Virginia Organizer at Sierra Club. “Nearly three quarters of all toxic water pollution comes from coal fired power plants. Sadly, even the EPA has acknowledged that protections are woefully out of date. That’s why we, and our allies, feel compelled to take action to protect our water and our wildlife.”

The groups originally served notice on AEP for Clean Water Act (CWA) violations under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) portion of the law which controls water pollution from single sources, like coal-fired power plants. The groups argued that each of the three plants were polluting local waterways with illegal levels of selenium, mercury and other dangerous metals known to harm aquatic life and degrade water quality.
“While today was a victory for clean water, we must ensure that these new technologies for lowering the discharges of mercury and other toxic heavy metals work as planned to bring the water pollution down to legal limits,” said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “I wish West Virginia were like most states, which already have real renewable energy standards. Moving to more clean energy production and energy efficiency is really the only way to make our air and water as safe as they need to be."
Specific actions include requiring the Amos plant to pay numerous monetary penalties and to reduce water pollution to legal levels by June 30, 2015. The Mitchell plant must convert its wet coal ash pond to a less polluting dry ash containment facility. The Kammer plant, already tentatively slated for retirement, will now cease operations on December 31, 2015. Both, the Mitchell and Kammer plants must study aquatic life near their coal ash ponds and pay financial penalties stipulated in the settlement. In total, AEP will be required to pay nearly $100,000 in fines, penalties and fees.
“Pollution in the form of air emissions from coal fired power plants is what most often captures the headlines but the water that runs off these sites and over and through the coal storage and coal ash waste disposal areas before being discharged is stressing many streams in West Virginia,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “Correcting some of these discharges is yet one more piece of the complex puzzle needed to maintain and improve our water resources for use by generations to come and we’re pleased that AEP has agreed to take steps to better control the quality of their discharges.”
Every year, coal-fired power plants dump millions of tons of toxic metals into our waterways. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 72 percent of all toxic water pollution in the country comes from coal-fired power plants, making coal plants the number one source of toxic water pollution in the U.S. What’s more, 4 out of 5 coal plants in the U.S. have no limits on the amount of toxics they are allowed to dump into our water. Coal plants across the country are disposing of toxic heavy metals like arsenic, selenium, boron, cadmium, mercury, and lead in our waterways, polluting our drinking water, fishing areas, and local rivers and streams. Research has shown that exposure to these dangerous chemicals can lead to birth defects, cancer, and even death—meaning that limiting these pollutants will not only clean up our water, but will also save lives.
”We expect coal-fired power plants to follow the law as all other industries are required to do,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “Our clean water laws are there to protect us from harm, and we are pleased that American Electric Power understands that it’s time to clean up their act.”
"This settlement confirms that wet coal ash handling is too risky for the environment and utilities' balance sheets.  It's time for EPA to outlaw wet coal ash impoundments nationally," concluded Richard Webster, councsel at Public Justice.
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia River Coalition and Sierra Club were represented in this matter by Michael Becher of Appalachian Mountain Advocates of Lewisburg, West Virginia and Richard Webster of Public Justice.