Mobile Baykeeper, SELC sue Alabama Power to stop continued coal ash pollution in Mobile-Tensaw River Delta
MOBILE, Ala. — Today, on behalf of Mobile Baykeeper, the Southern Environmental Law Center and former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Richard Moore filed a lawsuit against Alabama Power challenging the company’s illegal plan to permanently leave more than 21 million tons of coal ash at Plant Barry in an unlined pit within the floodplain on the banks of the Mobile River.
“Plant Barry is the only coal ash lagoon of a major utility left in a low-lying coastal area of the Southeast that is not already cleaned up or on track to be recycled or removed to safe storage, away from waterways,” says Barry Brock, director of SELC’s Alabama office. “It is past time that Alabama Power faced up to the fact that leaving wet, polluting coal ash on the banks of the Mobile River is not a long-term solution — it’s a disaster.”
For decades, coal ash at Plant Barry has been polluting groundwater with high levels of arsenic and other pollutants. Alabama Power’s plan to store millions of tons of coal ash in a pit next to the Mobile River and within Mobile-Tensaw River Delta ensures continued pollution.
In addition, the Mobile region is one of the rainiest areas by volume in the United States. When the Delta floods, it sends water across the Delta down the Mobile and Tensaw rivers and into Mobile Bay. In recent years, there have been two major coal ash disasters when riverfront coal ash storage sites failed in Kingston, Tennessee (2008), and on the Dan River in North Carolina and Virginia (2014), releasing millions of tons of toxic coal ash into adjoining rivers and putting downstream communities and businesses at risk.
“The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Mobile Bay are of incalculable value to Coastal Alabama,” says Cade Kistler, Baykeeper at Mobile Baykeeper. “These waters are the bedrock of the economy, quality of life, and environment in the region. Alabama Power’s plan to leave its 21 million tons of coal ash on the banks of the Mobile River, delta, and just upstream of Mobile Bay allows groundwater pollution to continue indefinitely and puts Coastal Alabama at risk of a catastrophic spill like those that have happened in Tennessee and North Carolina.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, which governs the closure of coal ash lagoons around the country, contains multiple performance standards that prohibit utilities from leaving their coal ash sitting in groundwater. Yet that is exactly what Alabama Power’s closure plan for the Plant Barry coal ash lagoon, where coal ash is saturated by groundwater, would do. The rule requires that owners of coal ash impoundments who cannot meet the performance standards for leaving coal ash in place must remove the ash to dry, lined landfill storage, or recycle it.
On July 20, 2022, Mobile Baykeeper gave notice of its intent to file suit to enforce the requirements of the coal ash rule against Alabama Power. The required 60-day notice period has now passed without a corrected plan from Alabama Power, allowing Baykeeper and SELC to file suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama to enforce requirements under federal law.
Across the Southeast, other utilities are removing more than 270 million tons of coal ash from unlined waterfront coal ash lagoons. South Carolina utilities, Duke Energy in North Carolina, as well as Virginia utility Dominion Energy, are excavating all of their unlined waterfront coal ash impoundments.
Georgia Power — which is owned by the same company as Alabama Power — is excavating approximately 65 million tons from unlined coal ash impoundments, including a plan announced in June to recycle 9 million tons of coal ash into concrete at Plant Bowen. Alabama Power is the only major utility in the Southeast that is not excavating any of its unlined waterfront coal ash lagoons, and Alabama is the only Southeastern state where not a single unlined waterfront coal ash lagoon is being excavated.
Mobile Baykeeper is a nonprofit citizens advocacy organization headquartered in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile Baykeeper is dedicated to defending and reviving the waters of Coastal Alabama and Mobile Bay, including its watershed, and the groundwaters and marshlands that are connected to these surface waters. Mobile Baykeeper has been working for more than seven years to safeguard and improve water quality in the Mobile Bay Watershed by the safe, proper disposal of coal ash in fully lined, dry landfills, or to be recycled into concrete. mobilebaykeeper.org