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Environmentalists cheer new Illinois safeguards on coal ash

The new guidelines create rules for cleaning up coal ash contamination, while also giving taxpayers a say in environmental decisions.
Credit: MGN

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Environmentalists are cheering rules that Illinois regulators have adopted to govern toxic byproducts from burning coal.

The Illinois Pollution Control Board last week approved guidelines for detecting and cleaning up harmful coal ash contamination from groundwater. They are the first rules in Illinois directed at the residue from burning coal to produce electricity.

The action creates rules for cleaning up contamination but also improves the ability of taxpayers to participate in permitting and remediation decisions, according to a statement from Earthjustice, one of five major environmental groups to participate in creating the rules. They filed more than 200 pages of technical recommendations.

So-called coal ash ponds are federally regulated landfills. But release of the ash around both active and closed coal plants in Illinois has contaminated groundwater with arsenic, boron, sulfate, and other chemicals. A 2018 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and the Sierra Club found widespread pollution in groundwater around 22 of the state’s 24 plants.

“These robust coal ash rules ensure that those that have borne the brunt of environmental injustice in Illinois will have a voice in the future cleanup of these sites and the protection of their communities,” said Andrew Rehn of the Prairie Rivers Network.

The rules require study of groundwater impacts before issuing permits for ash ponds, restrict their location in flood plains, and bar cost considerations as a basis for closure or clean-up decisions, and requires consideration of alternatives for removing coal ash, such as by rail, barge or truck.