Kentucky coal plant won’t pay any fines after polluting water supply

Kentucky coal plant won’t pay any fines after polluting water supply
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A coal plant in Western Kentucky will not pay any fines after a landfill leaked arsenic-laced pollution into the local water supply, according to a report by a local NPR affiliate. 

Big Rivers Electric Corporation negotiated a deal with the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet to clean the pollution and install a water treatment system at one of two landfill sites, WFPL News reported Friday.

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They will have until 2020 to complete the clean-up, a deadline four years after the pollution was first discovered at the D.B. Wilson coal-fired power plant south of Owensboro. 

Thom Cmar, an attorney an environmental advocacy nonprofit Earthjustice, said the order isn’t holding the company accountable.

The plant will not have to completely address its pollution of the local water supply, and Cmar told WFPL that the deal could prevent people living near the effected area from bringing lawsuits — a point disputed by the Cabinet.

“To me that’s the bigger story, it’s not whether there’s a nominal fine or not,” Cmar said. "It’s the fact that there’s no indication the company is being required to do a full accounting for what the impacts are of this pollution or fully address the pollution at its source."

“You get the sense that the order is issued more to protect the company,” he added.

An inspector discovered the leak while walking the perimeter of the plant in 2016, and finding a stream of black sludge flowing from a landfill into a nearby pond and the Green River.

That drinking water tested with 980 times more arsenic than the federal standard allows, as well as elevated amounts of other chemicals including antimony, chlorides and molybdenum, WFPL News reported. 

The pollution has likely seeped into the ground water — something that Big River won’t have to evaluate while cleaning up the pollution.

State and federal rules do not classify the arsenic-laced coal ash pollution as hazardous waste, WFPL News reported.

Coal ash regulations were written in 2015, meaning some older power plants are not operating at the new standards, according to Daniel Cleveland, an attorney for the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet.

“There were things that are just required under the new standards that if they are not there it’s a violation of the [regulations] but those requirements aren’t as clear cut in the old ones, it said ‘you know, don’t pollute water,’ ” he said.

Kentucky law allows regulators to fine polluters up to $25,000 per day but, under the agreed order signed by the state and Big Rivers, the coal plant won’t face any monetary penalties.

Cmar told WFPL that there needs to be federal standards to protect the environment.

“The state of Kentucky, other states around the country had decades where they were the only entities responsible for protecting the public from contamination at these sites and there is a long track record of failure, both in Kentucky and across the country,” he told WFPL.