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Milestone Bill to Clean Up Coal Ash Pollution in Illinois Becomes Law

Victory: The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act is a critical step in fixing Illinois’ coal ash problem
Vermilion Coal Ash

Toxic coal ash waste, the red material in the river bank, from Dynegy’s Vermilion Power Plant in Oakwood, Illinois, can be seen leaking into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.

Courtesy of The Prairie Rivers Network
July 30, 2019
Springfield, IL —

Today, bipartisan legislation to protect Illinois’ citizens and the environment from the effects of toxic coal ash became law. The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act will result in stronger rules for coal ash cleanup and fund cleanup programs through permit fees — while also requiring performance bonds or other financial security to ensure that companies set aside the money to close and clean up coal ash ponds.

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 the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (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 protection against dust and water pollution.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Bennett and Rep. Carol Ammons, passed the Illinois Legislature in May. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law today.

The legislation was badly needed. Organizations and community leaders have demanded state action for years. A recent report by Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club found widespread pollution in groundwater around 22 of the state’s 24 coal ash dumpsites. Pollutants found in nearby groundwater include arsenic, cobalt, and lithium. That report found that Illinois is one of the worst states in the nation for pollution from coal ash pits.

Iconic Illinois landscapes such as the Middle Fork of the Vermillion River, the State’s only Wild and Scenic River are threatened by leaking coal ash impoundments constructed under loose regulations or no regulations whatsoever.

This news comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pulling back on coal ash pollution regulations. The agency recently rejected an Obama-era proposal to require utilities to set aside financial assurances for coal ash cleanup costs.

Illinois is the fourth state to take action at the local level to combat the environmental and health impacts of coal ash. Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan have also taken steps to clean up coal ash in the wake of federal rollbacks.

Now that the bill has become law, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) will begin writing and proposing draft rules. The Illinois Pollution Control Board (PCB) will finalize the IEPA rules once they are approved. Both the rulemaking proposal process by IEPA and the approval process by PCB will allow stakeholders and community members to provide input before the final rules are put in place.

Statewide Partner Quotes

“Thank you to Governor Pritzker for signing the landmark Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act,” said Andrew Rehn with Prairie Rivers Network, “We would not be here today without the incredible leadership from Senator Bennett and Representative Ammons and heroic efforts from community groups across the state. We are now taking the first steps in cleaning up the toxic coal ash stored in unlined pits across Illinois.”

“With this law, Illinois is joining other states that are working to protect their citizens from toxic pollution from coal ash dumps,” said Jennifer Cassel, an Earthjustice coal program attorney based in Chicago. “For too long, utilities have been allowed to dump this pollution into unlined pits with no regard for the consequences. That will no longer be the case in Illinois.”

“By signing this bill into law, Gov. Pritzker has taken a historic step in protecting communities and the environment from dangerous coal ash pollution across Illinois,” said Colleen Smith, legislative director for the Illinois Environmental Council. “Now, polluters will be held responsible for the clean up of their toxic waste — not residents of Illinois.”

“This coal ash legislation is an important environmental protection success to protect safe, clean and drinkable water in Illinois,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “ELPC is pleased that Gov. Pritzker signed SB 9 because it will protect our water quality, air quality, and public health.”

“The communities of faith represented by Faith In Place Action Fund applaud the Governor signing SB 9 into law. Illinois joins other states that are putting its residents’ health before industrial polluters’ profit. We look forward to working with IEPA to engage communities most affected by coal ash on the rulemaking process.” Celeste Flores, Faith in Place Action Fund

“This is the most significant step to protect clean water and public health that has made it into law in years. People across the state who have struggled with the impacts of toxic coal ash are grateful that their calls for action to protect our groundwater and hold big polluters accountable have been heard. It’s now critical that the Illinois EPA develop the strongest possible coal ash rules with community input to ensure that this historic bill realizes its promise for coal ash communities across Illinois,” said Joyce Blumenshine of the Sierra Club.

Regional Partner Quotes

Wood River / Alton / Metro East

“It is always encouraging when people who have long felt ignored and powerless discover that someone finally listened. Metro East Green Alliance members have worked for several years to get the Texas-based coal giant Dynegy and the previous Rauner administration to do the right thing — to clean up the Wood River Power Plant that was shuttered over three years ago in a responsible way and to compensate the vulnerable community left unemployed and at increased health risk,” said Toni Oplt, MEGA member. “Now that SB 9 is law, we feel the state legislature, Governor Prizker and IEPA have, at last, pulled up a chair for us at the table. We have faith they will continue to listen as the SB 9 rulemaking for coal ash cleanup and the accompanying requirements for corporate financial assurances move forward.”

Waukegan

“This is a great win for Coal Ash Communities, especially for Waukegan residents that have been continuously affected by corporate polluters. The Governor is putting the State of Illinois in a good trajectory in signing SB 9 into law, by sending a message that environmental justice communities across the state are being put before profitable industrial polluters like NRG Energy. Waukegan residents commend Governor Pritzker and our state legislators for making SB 9 into law. Our land is our children’s future and we look forward to the state of Illinois to continue strengthening protections for our vulnerable environmental justice communities.” Dulce Ortiz, Clean Power Lake County

Vermilion County/Danville / Champaign

“We are so pleased that Governor Pritzker has signed Senate Bill 9 into law”, said Pam Richart, Co-Director of Eco-Justice Collaborative. “Community calls to clean up pollution from coal ash dumped on dozens of power plant sites across the state, including the unlined, leaking pits along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion, Illinois’ National Scenic River, have been ignored for far too long. This bill ensures that those living near coal ash will have a say in how these dumps are cleaned up, so that water quality, public health, and local economies are protected.”

“The Protect the Middle Fork Citizens Advisory Group sincerely thanks Governor Pritzker for signing SB 9. This bill will help keep Illinois water resources clean in perpetuity; ensure that communities like ours have a voice in how polluting coal ash pits impacting our water are closed; and require financial assurances for coal ash impoundment closures. This is a good day for Illinois!” Protect the Middle Fork Citizens Advocacy Group

Peoria

“This legislation is a critical step forward in ensuring that frontline communities like Peoria, impacted by coal ash pollution, are protected and won’t be left behind as we transition to a clean energy economy. We applaud the leadership of community members and legislators who have pushed for stronger coal ash protections and now it’s critical that the Illinois EPA propose the strongest rules possible with public input from those most impacted.” Reverend Tony Pierce, President of Illinois People’s Action and Heaven’s View Christian Fellowship in Peoria

“The Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance applauds the Governor signing SB 9, showing his commitment to communities that live with the prospect of abandoned coal ash pits and the toxins that threaten both groundwater and the Illinois River. The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act will protect communities by demanding real financial assurances instead of allowing these continually reorganizing energy profiteers to insure themselves,” said Tracy Fox, Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance

Contacts

Jennifer Cassel, Earthjustice,  (773) 332-6785

Tucker Barry, Illinois Environmental Council, (337) 280-1269

Andrew Rehn, Prairie Rivers Network, (708) 305-6181

Al Grosboll, Environmental Law & Policy Center, (217) 652-3866

Renner Barsella, Sierra Club, (217) 390-9394

Celeste Flores, Faith in Place Action Fund, (502) 395-8683

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