Illinois coal power plants consumed more than 48 million tons of coal in 2012 – more than any other state except Texas. So what happens to the ash that coal produces when it is burned?
Right now, it’s stored in 91 retention ponds around the state, where toxic substances like arsenic and mercury can leach from the ash into water supplies.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is pushing for new administrative rules ensuring the coal ash doesn’t poison the public’s water. The rules come as regulators clean up a Feb. 2 spill of 35 million gallons of coal ash and arsenic-tainted water into North Carolina’s Dan River.
During two days of tedious public hearings before the Illinois Pollution Control Board in Springfield last week, attorneys and experts from the energy industry, environmental lobby and IEPA trudged through hours of technical questions about how the rules would be interpreted and implemented. While the energy industry has mostly accepted that coal ash regulations are inevitable, environmental groups want to see a handful of tweaks for stronger protection.
“I’m actually very encouraged the state has taken the lead on proposing rules on how to close our ash ponds,” said Traci Barkley, a water resources scientist with Prairie Rivers Network. “With 90 aging ash ponds in our state, this is an area where we need to get ahead of the curve and make sure these are closed in a safe and timely fashion.”