May 3, 2023
Toxic Coal Ash in North Dakota: Addressing Coal Plants’ Hazardous Legacy
For decades, utilities disposed of coal ash — the hazardous substance left after burning coal for energy — by dumping it in unlined ponds and landfills. North Dakota has 37 coal ash dumpsites.
North Dakota remains one of the nation’s top coal ash-generating states, ranking tenth in ash production in 2020.
Coal ash contains hazardous pollutants including arsenic, boron, cobalt, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, radium, selenium, and other heavy metals, which have been linked to cancer, heart and thyroid disease, reproductive failure, and neurological harm.
Industry’s own data indicate that across the country 91% of coal plants are currently polluting groundwater above federal health standards with toxic pollutants.
Coal ash remains one of our nation’s largest toxic industrial waste streams. U.S. coal plants continue to produce approximately 70 million tons every year.
Despite EPA’s 2015 Coal Ash Rule, which created the first-ever safeguards for coal ash disposal, many coal ash dumps remain unregulated due to sweeping exemptions for legacy coal ash ponds and inactive landfills.
The exempted coal ash dumps are sited disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color. The EPA issued a proposed rule to address most of these exemptions on May 17, 2023.
The magnitude of harm from recklessly dumped toxic coal ash requires decisive action from federal and state regulators.
- Utilities must be required to comply with the law and immediately clean up their pollution.
- EPA and states must make enforcement a priority and act quickly to ensure that utilities leave communities with sites that benefit rather than harm their health, environment, and economic status.
- EPA must swiftly strengthen the Coal Ash Rule to address the many legacy ponds and inactive landfills that are unregulated, and to prohibit coal ash used as fill unless protective measures are put in place, to ensure all North Dakota communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
16 Regulated Coal Ash Disposal Sites in North Dakota
North Dakota utilities operate 16 regulated coal ash ponds and landfills at seven plants that contain more than 58 million cubic yards of toxic waste.
Coal ash has caused significant groundwater contamination at all but one North Dakota plant.
Despite the widespread and serious contamination, no North Dakota plant has developed a groundwater cleanup plan, and most plants in the state no longer even monitor the groundwater for toxic heavy metals.
|Antelope Valley||Beulah||Basin Electric||1 landfill||Molybdenum (x1)|
|Coal Creek||Underwood||Great River||3 lined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x2), Boron (x15), Cobalt (x5), Lead (x2), Lithium (x17), Sulfate (x11)|
|Coyote||Beulah||Otter Tail||3 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x1), Boron (x2), Cobalt (x5), Selenium (x2), Sulfate (x10)|
|Leland Olds||Stanton||Basin Electric||2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x1), Boron (x2), Fluoride (x1), Lithium (x3), Molybdenum (x2), Sulfate (x4)|
|Milton Young||Center||Minnkota Power Coop||1 lined pond||No contaminants exceeding federal standards|
|RM Heskett||Mandan||MT-Dakota Utilities||1 landfill||Lithium (x54), Sulfate (x22)|
|Stanton||Stanton||Great River Energy||1 lined pond, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x17), Boron (x2), Lead (x1), Molybdenum (x2)|
All data on groundwater contamination from coal ash derived from the utilities’ publicly accessible CCR Compliance Data and Information websites, and exceedances were calculated by Environmental Integrity Project.
For more information on regulated coal ash sites in North Dakota and throughout the U.S., see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.
21 Unregulated Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in North Dakota (ash dumps exempted from the 2015 Coal Ash Rule)
In addition, North Dakota hosts at least 21 unregulated inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds that escape federal regulation. The exact number remains unknown because utilities are not required to report these sites.
These dumps are almost certainly contaminating water and threatening health and the environment; however, monitoring data are not currently available for most unregulated sites.
As we anticipate EPA’s proposed rule on legacy ponds and unregulated landfills in May 2023, a concern remains that the agency will not address coal ash that was dumped off site or used as fill.
|Antelope Valley||Beulah||Basin Electric||0||1||Yes- Industry data|
|Coal Creek||Underwood||Great River||0||5||Yes – Industry data, EPA damage case|
|Coyote||Beulah||Otter Tail||0||3||Yes – Industry data|
|Leland Olds||Stanton||Basin Electric||0||1||Yes – Industry data, EPA damage case|
|Milton Young||Center||Minnkota Power Coop||0||7||No known contamination|
|RM Heskett||Mandan||MT-Dakota Utilities||0||1||Yes – Industry data, EPA damage case|
|Stanton||Stanton||Great River Energy||0||2||Yes – Industry data|
|WJ Neal||Velva||Basin Electric Power Coop||1||0||Yes – EPA damage case|
These data were developed by using EPA datasets relied upon in their 2007 and 2014 CCR risk assessments (Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion Residuals) and comparing those datasets to the universe of regulated units.
“EPA damage case” denotes a site where US EPA has found documented groundwater contamination from coal ash.
For More Information
Christine Santillana, Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice, email@example.com
Lisa Evans, Senior Counsel, Earthjustice, firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on Coal Ash in North Dakota
Coal Ash in States, Territories, Regions
Earthjustice fights in the courts for a long-term solution to the toxic menace of coal ash. And we act on behalf of dozens of clients and over 100 coalition partners to defeat legislative attempts to subvert federally enforceable safeguards of coal ash.
Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program uses the power of the law and the strength of partnership to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.