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Coal Plant Owners Under Fire for Alleged Coal Ash Contamination

By Chris Bentley in News on Oct 5, 2012 8:20PM

We pulled some of the best coal plant shots from the Chicagoist Flickr group, like this one: "The Smoking Gun V2"

The last mounds of coal at Chicago's two coal-fired power plants went up in smoke at the end of August, but now owner Midwest Generation is taking lumps over alleged pollution at four of its Illinois waste storage sites.

Four environmental groups allege in a complaint filed this week with the Illinois Pollution Control Board that Midwest Generation allowed ponds of coal ash to seep heavy meals like arsenic and manganese into the ground, where the pollutants could contaminate drinking water.

There is no evidence of private well contamination near the four plants in Joliet, Romeoville, Waukegan and Pekin. In light of increased scrutiny from the EPA following last year’s massive coal ash spill in Tennessee, however, the allegations are likely to receive a closer look. Fossil fuel industry advocates point to a “war on coal” in the form of excessive regulation, while environmental groups contend pollution laws are too lenient or seldom enforced.

The Tribune’s Michael Hawthorne put it like this:

Despite years of studies documenting how coal ash can threaten water supplies, dozens of makeshift holding ponds across the nation still are regulated far more loosely than household garbage landfills. The Tennessee disaster led the Illinois EPA to take a closer look at the state's ash ponds, and the agency found that several were so old that they weren't lined to prevent groundwater contamination.

Plummeting natural gas prices and tighter environmental regulations have threatened the company’s presence in the state altogether. Midwest Generation’s parent company previously considered closing its other coal-fired power plants in Illinois when it agreed in February to shutter Fisk and Crawford ahead of schedule.