Sierra Club Challenges Utility’s Plan to Haul Coal Ash on Rivers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
23 October 2015
By Don Hopey

A FirstEnergy Corp. plan to use barges to haul coal ash 113 miles up the Ohio and Monongahela rivers jeopardizes the rivers and nearby residents, according to the Sierra Club, which is appealing the company’s state permit.

FirstEnergy would transport the coal ash from the Bruce Mansfield power plant in Beaver County to its landfill near the shuttered Hatfields Ferry power plant in Greene County.

The appeal of the state Department of Environmental Protection permit issued a month ago was filed Thursday with the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm based in Washington, D.C., that is representing the Sierra Club.

“We have some problems with the shipping process, which involves a lot of risk to the rivers and the people who live along the rivers,” said Charles McPhedran, an Earthjustice attorney, who added that in July the groups also appealed DEP’s decision to reissue the expired permit for FirstEnergy’s Greene County ash landfill.

Stephanie Walton, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman, said the company is reviewing the Sierra Club objections and would respond during the appeal process. She noted that the permit to use the Greene County landfill remains in effect but that the barge shipments would not begin until January 2017.

That’s when the Akron-based electric utility company is required by a federal consent order to close its 40-year-old Little Blue Run ash impoundment — the largest in the U.S. — in part because that unlined facility, which straddles the Pennsylvania-West Virginia line, is seeping pollutants and has contaminated groundwater and surface water in Beaver County.

The Sierra Club objects to FirstEnergy’s plans to move the Bruce Mansfield ash to the Greene County landfill because that facility has also leaked and contaminated groundwater.

“The landfill at Hatsfields Ferry is a proven damage case with documented instances over the last decade of pollutants from the landfill leaching into the groundwater,” said Tom Schuster, who heads the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Pennsylvania. “And it’s ongoing.”

He said arsenic, a carcinogen that can also cause liver, kidney and nervous system damage, has been found in monitoring wells around the Greene County ash disposal site in concentrations up to 342 times the legal limit for drinking water.

FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant in Shippingport is the largest in the state. It burns about 7 million tons of coal a year, and produces between 2.5 million and 3.5 million tons of coal ash and smokestack scrubber waste. The company is building a $200 million facility to remove water from the ash slurry and a river terminal to load the ash and waste materials onto barges.

Don Hopey: 412-263- 1983, or on Twitter @donhopey