Kentucky Utilities Announces It Will Phase Out Coal and Continue Transition to Clean Energy

Coal ash piles at Kentucky Utilities’ E.W. Brown plant site are still leaking pollution


Thomas Cmar, Earthjustice, (708) 613-5061 

Wendy Bredhold, Sierra Club, (812) 604-1723 

Bijaya Shrestha, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, (502) 589-8008  


Kentucky Utilities announced today that it will retire two of its three coal-fired units located at the E.W. Brown coal plant near Herrington Lake in Harrodsburg. Advocates including Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and Kentucky Waterways Alliance have worked for years with local communities to curb dangerous air and water pollution from the plant. The groups plan to continue their legal fight to clean up coal ash pollution from E.W. Brown that threatens the health of Herrington Lake until proper action is taken by KU.  

“This is an important and necessary step in the company’s transition to clean energy,” said Earthjustice attorney Thomas Cmar. “This does nothing to stop the ongoing pollution from the company’s coal ash pits that is leaking into Herrington Lake—pollution we filed suit about in July. And Kentucky Utilities is still planning to run one aging coal-fired unit at the E.W. Brown site that will continue to spew harmful air and water pollution.”

Since 2010, more than half of the coal-fired power plants in the United States have already stopped burning coal or announced plans to phase out coal-burning operations.

The two units that Kentucky Utilities plans to retire emitted nearly one million tons of carbon dioxide in 2015 alone. 

“Sierra Club is pleased to see Kentucky Utilities moving beyond coal at the E.W. Brown coal plant, and we look forward to a total phase-out of the plant,” said Wendy Bredhold, Senior Campaign Representative with the Beyond Coal Campaign in Kentucky. “We’re committed to building a future in Kentucky that supports workers and communities historically dependent on coal, while protecting public health and customers from the costs of it.”  

In July, Sierra Club and Kentucky Waterways Alliance—represented by Earthjustice—filed a federal lawsuit against Kentucky Utilities, seeking cleanup of the toxic coal ash waste at the E.W. Brown plant because the ongoing pollution into Herrington Lake is contaminating the water, sediments, and fish. Herrington Lake is popular for boating, fishing, swimming, and supplies drinking water for tens of thousands of people. At least 6 million cubic yards of buried coal ash sits in contact with groundwater flowing into the lake. Kentucky Utilities, an affiliate of Louisville Gas & Electric Company, has conducted testing that shows that contaminants such as selenium, arsenic, and boron have leached out of the coal ash into the groundwater. Separate tests by the Kentucky Division of Water found that 9 out of 10 fish samples collected near the E.W. Brown plant had high levels of selenium—high enough to violate Kentucky water standards.

“While we are glad to see this commitment on the part of KU, the future retirement of these two stations does nothing to address the current selenium contamination occurring in Herrington Lake. The remaining coal fired unit will continue to generate the coal ash that is seeping into the lake, contaminating the water and fish population therein.  More must be done – Herrington Lake is already contaminated by coal ash and, while the seepage must be stopped, cleanup of the lake is also urgently needed,” said Bijaya Shrestha, Water Policy Director with Kentucky Waterways Alliance

The environmental groups’ lawsuit requests that the federal court in Lexington order Kentucky Utilities to stop coal ash pollution from flowing into Herrington Lake and clean up the existing contamination.


Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.