Illinois House and Senate Pass Landmark Legislation to Clean up Coal Ash
Yesterday, the Illinois Legislature passed SB9, The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which now heads to the Governor’s desk. The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state. Illinois is now the third state in the country to pass legislation providing significant coal ash protections above and beyond federal requirements. The legislation creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup, guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities, and provides Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup. It also requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.
SB9 amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and was sponsored by State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Champaign) sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. A large coalition of activists from around Illinois championed the legislation that will now proceed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk to be signed into law, including; Central Illinois Healthy Communities Alliance, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, Clean Power Lake County, Earthjustice, Eco-Justice Collaborative, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Faith in Place Action Fund, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois People’s Action, Metro-East Green Alliance, Prairie Rivers Network, Protect the Middle Fork, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, and Springfield Clean.
Illinois has the highest concentration of coal ash impoundments in the country. The Illinois EPA has found groundwater contamination from coal ash waste sites dating back to 2009. A 2018 report from environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club analyzing data collected by ash dump owners under the federal coal ash rule found that 22 of 24 of Illinois’ reporting coal ash dumpsites have unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in the groundwater. Illinois joins Virginia and North Carolina in addressing coal ash through state level legislation.
“Illinois has a toxic coal ash problem and, as a state, we’ve been slow to addressing it,” Senator Bennett (D-Champaign) said. “If we don’t act now, this toxic byproduct will be a part of our state’s environment for generations. We cannot afford to stand by while coal ash pollution threatens our water and our future.”
"For too long Illinois has simply reacted to crisis, without doing anything to get in front of the problem and avoid it," said Representative Ammons (D-Champaign). "The passage of SB9 provides us with the protections, regulations, and financial assurances that we need to prevent more coal ash crises in Illinois."
Statewide Partner Organizations
“Illinois legislators have taken a strong stand to protect communities from the dangers of toxic coal ash,” said Earthjustice Attorney Jenny Cassel. “This legislation makes polluters pay for cleaning up the mess they created instead of making taxpayers foot the bill. It also makes sure the public can give input in the cleanup of the toxic waste in their backyards so we can be sure it’s done right. The legislature did its part. Now it’s time for Governor Pritzker to sign it into law.”
“Today’s vote is a historic moment in the Illinois General Assembly protecting public health and our environment,” said Colleen Smith, legislative director for the Illinois Environmental Council. “This bill will hold polluters accountable for the harms their toxic waste has caused in communities across the state and ensure communities aren’t stuck footing the bill.”
“After years of inaction, Illinois will finally be taking steps to protect the public from the environmental and financial threats posed by coal ash ponds,” said Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer with Prairie Rivers Network. “Thanks to our bill sponsors Senator Scott Bennett and Representative Carol Ammons for tackling this urgent problem.”
“Sierra Club Illinois applauds the General Assembly for passing this historic bill to protect Illinois communities and waterways from toxic coal ash waste that has been contributing to groundwater contamination across this state for too many years. It’s critical that we protect Illinois taxpayers from the clean up costs that profitable companies like NRG and Vistra should be responsible for if they do business in Illinois,” said Joyce Blumenshine, Conservation Chair for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“Coal ash represents a clear and present danger to water quality and human health,” said Al Grosboll, Legislative Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “These problems have been ignored for too long. SB 9 is the right response and represents the most important environmental protection measure for Illinois in recent years.”
“The passage of SB9 is a historical win for Environmental Justice Communities throughout our state,” said Celeste Flores, with the Faith In Place Action Fund. “People of faith across Illinois applaud the leadership of our elected leaders in the Senate and House for taking action on coal ash contamination of our land and water and implore the general assembly to continue to hold polluters accountable for injustice, oppression, and environmental degradation. We look forward to celebrating this victory with Environmental Justice Communities when Governor Pritzker signs this bill into law.”
Regional Partner Organizations
“Metro East Green Alliance is thrilled that the Coal Ash Pollution Prevent Act has passed the Illinois Legislature,” said Toni Oplt of the Metro-East Green Alliance. “Our communities along the Mississippi River are directly threatened by the coal ash ponds at the shuttered Dynegy-Vistra power plant in Wood River, IL., which sit on a flood plain where water is currently rising. SB9 will give our community a voice in future decisions of what's going to happen to the toxic coal ash that sits next to our rivers and pollutes our groundwater.”
"With the passage of the Coal Ash Pollution Protection Act, our community is better protected from the coal ash ponds located at Coffeen Power Plant." said Mary Ellen DeClue of Citizens Against Longwall Mining, "Coffeen Lake is an important recreational asset to our area and will be protected from coal ash toxicity. Thank you Illinois House and Senate for passing this needed bill."
We are so happy that SB9 passed the General Assembly and is now on to the Governor’s office to be signed into law! We want to especially thank Senator Scott Bennett, Representative Carol Ammons, and Representative Mike Marron with who we are working to protect the Middle Fork from coal ash pollution. Together, they passed bi-partisan legislation that will protect communities across the state from this highly toxic waste, and ensure the polluter pays for cleanup. We sincerely thank them and the General Assembly for passing a bill that puts Illinois communities first, said Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative.
"People from Danville, Homer and Urbana/Champaign love Illinois' nationally recognized "Wild and Scenic River" — the Middle Fork of the Vermilion. It is already impacted by coal ash pollution. And we know that there are dozens of these toxic ponds around the state.” said the Rev. Cindy Shepherd, Faith in Place “Our water, our grandchildren's water, deserves the protection this bill provides."
“Today is a day of hope. A day of hope for many hard working black and brown sisters and brothers that bear the burden of toxic waste in our own backyards,” said Dulce Ortiz, Clean Power Lake County. “The passage of SB 9 out of the general assembly is a historic step forward for environmental justice communities across the state like Waukegan. Environmental Justice communities still have a long fight to assure community members have the basic human right of breathing clean air and drinking clean water. We call on Governor Pritzker to prioritize the voices of a community like Waukegan and protect them from polluters like NRG Energy.”