Catawba Riverkeeper Files Lawsuit Against SCE&G
On January 12, 2012, The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Catawba Riverkeeper, filed a lawsuit against SCE&G to require a cleanup of coal ash ponds with a long history of leakage.
By Sammy Fretwell
Posted: Friday, Jan. 13, 2012
Modified: Friday, Jan. 13, 2012
Excerpts from articles in The Charlotte Observer (NC) and The State (Columbia, SC)
COLUMBIA Years of water pollution from SCE&G's Eastover power plant landed the company in court Thursday when environmentalists sued to require a cleanup that state regulators never forced the company to perform. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation says SCE&G and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control have struck two private agreements to address the contamination, but neither accord has resulted in cleansing the site, protecting the Wateree River or safeguarding groundwater.
In fact, a 2001 agreement allowed the company to continue polluting groundwater at hundreds of times the federal safe-drinking water standard, the suit said. The 2001 deal did not result in a fine for SCE&G, but the company pledged to try and reduce the pollution.
Frank Holleman, an attorney representing the Catawba Riverkeeper, said he hopes the lawsuit will get the power company’s attention and result in cleansing toxic arsenic and polluted coal ash from the site after decades of problems.
The Catawba River becomes the Wateree River, where the coal-fired power plant is located, just three miles upstream from Congaree National Park.
“For forty years, these coal ash waste lagoons have been polluting South Carolina’s waters,” Holleman said. “They’re a disaster waiting to happen, perched on the banks of the Wateree River. We’re asking SCE&G to clean up its mess and stop discharging arsenic and other toxic pollutants into South Carolina’s waters.”
The 42-year-old power plant, which burns coal, dumps waste ash into unlined ponds that have leaked. The ash contains arsenic, a poison that has been documented in groundwater and the Wateree River. People who live in lower Richland County fish from the river and rely on wells for drinking water, though arsenic poisoning has not been detected in private wells.
The lawsuit is unusual because it was filed by a public interest group in an effort to force compliance with state law, environmentalists say. A recent S.C. Supreme Court ruling solidifying the use of such “citizen suits’’ contributed to the decision to sue SCE&G, Holleman said.
Thursday’s suit, filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, focuses on discharges that it says should not have occurred without permits. Because DHEC reached pollution settlements with SCE&G instead of issuing permits, the public never had the opportunity to comment on the plans, the suit says. The suit asks the court to force SCE&G to stop disposal of coal ash in the ponds, clean out the ponds “in a reasonable amount of time’’ and cleanup polluted groundwater.
DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said his agency was declining comment. Power company spokesman Robert Yanity said seepage from the company’s coal ash pond walls has been stopped and the utility already is working to remove ash from the waste ponds. The company plans to dig up any contaminated soil once the ash is removed, according to an agreement negotiated late last year with DHEC.
“As to the items that the SELC and its stakeholders appear to be asking us to do in regards to our ash ponds at Wateree, we are currently doing or have already done them,’’ Yanity said in an email.
The 2011 accord, however, allows the company to quit the agreement at its own discretion. If SCE&G follows through on the plan, all of the coal ash won’t be removed for at least 10 years.
For a copy of the Complaint filed against SCE&G, click here.
To read a December 15, 2011 news report about the Wateree ash ponds, click here.