Santee Cooper Leads South in Cleaning Up Coal Ash Waste

The Waccamaw River is home to an astounding array of species and is used for drinking water, fishing and recreation. This week's announcement will remove coal ash on the Waccamaw and Cooper Rivers and Winyah Bay.

For almost half a century Santee Cooper dumped coal ash in unlined pits at its Grainger Power Station in Conway, South Carolina. This ash pollutes the Waccamaw River with high levels of arsenic and other toxic heavy metals, prompting SACE and other conservation groups to file suit against the utility for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

On November 19, Santee Cooper announced that they would settle our suit by agreeing to remove all of the Grainger ash waste – equalling 1.3 million tons – as well as the contaminated soil underneath the lagoons, away from the river. They will be looking to “beneficially reuse” most of the ash waste as well as moving some into new capped and lined impoundments offsite.

But in a surprise additional announcement Santee Cooper also committed to removing all the wet-stored ash at its Winyah and Jefferies coal-fired power stations over the next 10 to 15 years, saying that most of the ash will be recycled at a new facility being built in Georgetown, South Carolina. Santee Cooper’s executive vice president of corporate services, R.M. Singletary, calls the plan a “win, win, win” for the local environment, economy, and the utility.

We agree that this is a huge step in the right direction and applaud Santee Cooper’s commitment to clean up their coal ash across South Carolina’s Low Country. In making this announcement, Santee Cooper emerges as a leader in the Southeast for addressing toxic coal ash waste and sets a much needed precedent for the rest of the utilities in our region.

Santee Cooper’s announcement is the second time a South Carolina utility has committed recently to move away from the dirty, outdated, and dangerous practice of storing coal ash in wet lagoons. In August, 2012 South Carolina Electric and Gas made a similar commitment to remove all of the ash at its coal-fired power plant on the Wateree River near Columbia, South Carolina. Both the Waccamaw and Wateree Rivers flow through both North and South Carolina, however North Carolina’s utility giant, Duke Energy, has taken no action to stop wet storage of ash at any of its 14 coal-fired power plants. So, while South Carolina’s utilities are doing the right thing to clean up these beautiful rivers, upstream in North Carolina coal ash pollution continues to dump arsenic, selenium, mercury, boron and many other toxic heavy metals on downstream neighbors.

The patchwork of approaches across states is caused by a lack of federal coal ash regulations, leaving it up to individual states and (in this case) utilities to decide how coal ash will be handled, stored and monitored. SACE, concerned citizens and other conservation groups continue to call on Congress and the EPA to swiftly adopt comprehensive regulations, protecting all rivers and communities from the toxic threat of coal ash pollution, particularly in the wake of the 5th anniversary of the Kingston coal ash disaster in TN. Until such rules are finalized, the courts are the only way we can move utilities toward cleaning up their ash.

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Their decision could have something to do with this: Investors ask fossil fuel companies to assess how business plans fare in low-carbon future – Coalition of 70 investors worth $3 trillion call on world’s largest oil & gas, coal and electric power companies to assess risks under climate action and ‘business as usual’ scenarios.

The investors, most of them based in the United States and Europe, sent letters to the fossil fuel companies last month, requesting detailed responses before their annual shareholder meetings in early 2014. Investors signing the letters include California’s two largest public pension funds, the New York State and New York City Comptrollers, F&C Asset Management and the Scottish Widows Investment Partnership.

The investor effort, called the Carbon Asset Risk (CAR) initiative, is being coordinated by Ceres and the Carbon Tracker initiative, with support from the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change.

“We would like to understand [the company’s] reserve exposure to the risks associated with current and probable future policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050,” the investors wrote in their letter to oil and gas companies. “We would also like to understand what options there are for [the company] to manage these risks by, for example, reducing the carbon intensity of its assets, divesting its most carbon intensive assets, diversifying its business by investing in lower carbon energy sources or returning capital to shareholders.”


Comment by Pamela Zuppo on November 21, 2013 3:47 pm

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