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Public Comments Sought for WY Coal-Ash Cleanup

Coal ash is what's left after burning coal for electricity production, and is typically stored in open air, often unlined slurries. (Richard Webb)
Coal ash is what's left after burning coal for electricity production, and is typically stored in open air, often unlined slurries. (Richard Webb)
August 12, 2019

SHERIDAN, Wyo. – The deadline for public comments on PacifiCorp's plans to mitigate toxic leaks from coal ash ponds at power plants in Wyoming is Aug. 26, and environmental groups are urging people to put their opinions on record.

Coal ash is the byproduct of coal burned for generating electricity, and is primarily stored in open air pits and ponds.

The Dave Johnson, Naughton and Jim Bridger power plants, along with Basin Electric Power Cooperative's Laramie River Station, all have reported groundwater contaminants above federal limits.

Connie Wilbert, director of the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter, says because the toxins are dangerous, it's important to do whatever is necessary to clean them up.

"They really need to take appropriate measures to deal with these problems, not just stop-gap, Band-Aid kind of measures,” she states. “This has to be dealt with."

Recent data showed selenium and lithium levels at the Jim Bridger and Naughton plants were 100 times over federal levels for safe drinking water.

PacifiCorp says it's up for the task of cleaning up the contaminated sites, and maintains the sites have never posed a danger to Wyoming's drinking water.

More than 90% of coal plants in the U.S. have ash ponds that have leaked and led to unsafe levels of toxins in drinking water, according to one recent analysis of industry data.

Wilbert says it's impossible to say whether toxins have seeped into Wyoming water supplies, because many sites don't have enough monitoring wells.

She adds it's important for the public to know where contaminants are traveling underground, especially for the Dave Johnson site, on the banks of the North Platte River.

"All the downstream communities might be concerned about what's happening with the contamination that's leaking out of the Dave Johnson coal ash pits," Wilbert states.

Each year, the nation's coal fired power plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash pollution.

Public health hazards from unsafe disposal include increased risks of cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, birth defects, compromised reproductive systems, asthma and other illnesses.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Wyoming Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY