Utility's Bid for Hauling Coal Ash by Barge Could Get Approval
on Fast Track
29 November 2013
By Don Hopey
FirstEnergy Corp.'s controversial plan to barge more than 3.5
million tons of coal ash a year on the Ohio and Monongahela rivers
to a new disposal site in Fayette County could be approved by the
state before the public gets a chance to fully comment on
important parts of the proposal, according to four environmental
The groups say the state Department of Environmental Protection
will close a public comment period on FirstEnergy's application
for a "beneficial use" permit for ash disposal Monday, before the
company submits its final permit proposal at the end of December.
That permit would allow the company to deposit the coal ash and
smokestack scrubber waste produced by its Bruce Mansfield
coal-fired power plant in Shippingport, Beaver County, to benefit
reclamation of abandoned strip mines.
FirstEnergy must find a new place to put the power plant wastes
because of a consent order with the DEP, that requires the company
to close its 1,900-acre Little Blue Run coal ash disposal site
along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border in Beaver County at
the end of 2016, in part because seepage of pollutants from the
unlined impoundment has contaminated groundwater and surface water
in the area.
"The public has a right to know what FirstEnergy has in mind for
this massive amount of ash, which has already caused tremendous
harm in communities around 'Little Blue,' " said Lisa
Graves-Marcucci, community outreach coordinator for the
Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based
environmental organization involved in Little Blue closure issues.
The EIP and three local organizations -- the Citizens Coal
Council, Little Blue Regional Action Group and Residents Against
the Power Plant -- have asked the DEP to republish the company's
revised final beneficial use proposal in the Pennsylvania Bulletin
and reopen the public comment period, or extend the original
comment period by 90 days.
DEP said it would not re-notice the permit or officially extend
the public comment period, but will continue to accept comments on
the final company beneficial use proposal in January, after it is
submitted at the end of December.
"There will be a time later when FirstEnergy will have to explain
where the ash is going, but at this point it doesn't have to
stipulate that," said John Poister, a DEP spokesman. "When the
company submits its final application everyone will be notified
and when it determines where the material will be sent, it will
need to get permits from our mining office and there will be
public comment and most likely a public hearing."
The Little Blue ash impoundment, the nation's largest coal ash
disposal site, was opened in 1974 as a wet storage site for ash
and smokestack scrubber waste from the Akron, Ohio-based utility's
Bruce Mansfield power plant. FirstEnergy first proposed to expand
the facility, but, after receiving opposition to its plan, last
year decided to dispose of the coal ash elsewhere.
In January, FirstEnergy floated a plan to place the ash on barges
and ship it 96 miles up the Ohio and Monongahela rivers to another
unlined ash disposal site on a 360-acre former strip mine and
waste coal pile at La Belle, Fayette County. The company said it
had signed a long-term contract with Matt Canestrale Contracting
Inc., which has been accepting coal ash from several other power
plants since 1999.
Stephanie Walton, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman, said the company
plans to ship all of its ash from Bruce Mansfield to the La Belle
site, but must get several state permits.
But Alayne Gobeille, an EIP attorney, said that destination isn't
included in the beneficial use permit application and it should
"For some reason FirstEnergy doesn't want to say in the general
permit what it's going to do with the waste, and DEP seems to be
taking the position that the permit doesn't require that," Ms.
Gobeille said. "But that's different from my understanding of the
general permit provisions and different than what DEP required in
She also questioned why DEP is allowing FirstEnergy to apply for a
beneficial use designation under a 15-year-old general permit
rather than a new individual permit that, she said, would be more
The public comment period on the beneficial use permit ends
Monday. Comments on the permit can be sent to Diane McDaniel,
Environmental Engineering Manager, Department of Environmental
Protection, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-5984.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/news/environment/2013/11/29/Utility-s-bid-for-hauling-coal-ash-by-barge-could-get-approval-on-fast-track.print#ixzz2m1OoX0Gu