Report: Unsafe pollutant levels found at multiple Indiana, Kentucky coal plants

EVANSVILLE — Four area coal ash sites are in the top 50 worst for unsafe pollutant levels, according to a new report released in November.

The Environmental Integrity Project and Earth Justice report dives into the contamination at power plants across the country, and their violations of a federal regulation called the “Coal Ash Rule.”

Coal ash, toxic waste left after coal is burned for electricity, is one of the largest industrial waste streams in the United States, according to the report. The ash is typically dumped in unlined ponds and landfills.

In the list of 292 coal plants, ranked by a system based on the severity of contamination in downgradient wells, the Petersburg Generating Station narrowly missed the top 10, coming in 11th.

CenterPoint Energy's A.B. Brown Generating Station in Posey County ranks 48th on the Environmental Integrity and EarthJustice report on contamination at power plants across the United States.
CenterPoint Energy's A.B. Brown Generating Station in Posey County ranks 48th on the Environmental Integrity and EarthJustice report on contamination at power plants across the United States.

The Sebree, Kentucky Generating Station comes in at 21; Gibson County’s Generating Station at 36; and Posey County’s A.B. Brown Generating Station at 48.

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Though not in the top 50, Warrick County’s F.B. Culley Generating Station ranks 61st; Owensboro’s Elmer Smith Station at 65th; the Rockport Plant at 162nd and Sullivan, Indiana’s Merom Generating Station at 278th.

The report states 91% of U.S. coal plants are causing unsafe levels of groundwater contamination.

A.B. Brown Generating Station

The A.B. Brown Generating Station is one of the most discussed plants locally with recent CenterPoint Energy rate increases directly tied to the plant.

According to the report, A.B. Brown coal ash ponds had unsafe levels of arsenic, boron, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, sulfate and thallium.

CenterPoint was recently approved to convert the plant to natural gas, and in turn increase rates for its customers.

More:CenterPoint expects to ask to recover A.B. Brown closing costs from ratepayers soon

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approved CenterPoint’s request to replace its coal-burning plant with new natural gas combustion turbines.

The project was originally estimated to cost $323 million in total, with monthly bills rising $23 a month for residents using 1,000-kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to testimony CenterPoint filed to support its request last year.

CenterPoint is facing an October 2023 deadline to close its A.B. Brown power plant and clean up its coal ash ponds there and at the F.B. Brown plant.

CenterPoint spokeswoman Alyssia Oshodi said the company is committed to the "safe operation and closure" of the company’s ponds.

"As has been previously disclosed, the A.B. Brown coal ash pond will be closed through excavation and recycling – one of the largest ash removal and recycling projects in the U.S.," she stated. "There is no evidence of releases beyond the A.B. Brown property boundary and therefore no identified risk to the public."

Oshodi also stated the company's groundwater monitoring data is available on its website.

"We continue to explore further corrective steps that may be necessary to address groundwater impacts beyond removing the coal as," the statement read.

Petersburg Generating Station

The Petersburg Generating Station in Petersburg, Ind., Wednesday evening, Nov. 30, 2022. The Petersburg Station is the highest ranked local coal plant on the list of 292 coal plants named in the Environmental Integrity Project and EarthJustice's report on contamination caused by power plants across the country. AES Indiana's Petersburg Generating Station was cited as having unsafe levels of arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, sulfate and thallium and ranks number 11 on the list of 292.
The Petersburg Generating Station in Petersburg, Ind., Wednesday evening, Nov. 30, 2022. The Petersburg Station is the highest ranked local coal plant on the list of 292 coal plants named in the Environmental Integrity Project and EarthJustice's report on contamination caused by power plants across the country. AES Indiana's Petersburg Generating Station was cited as having unsafe levels of arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, sulfate and thallium and ranks number 11 on the list of 292.

The Petersburg Station is the highest local coal plant on the ranking list. Operated by Indianapolis Power & Light, was cited as having unsafe levels of arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, sulfate and thallium.

Of the three ponds, Pond C was closed in 2021 and Pond A and A’ have intents to close filed from 2018 and 2019.

According to the report, those ponds do come in contact with groundwater, so if remediation is not completed, ash contributions will continue after closure.

According to AES Indiana, which now owns Indiana Power and Light, the company meets all applicable environmental requirements. Including those related to "non-hazardous coal ash," spokeswoman Kelly Young stated.

"AES Indiana is committed to the safety of those in the communities we serve and will close all ponds and implement corrective measures in accordance with state and federal regulations," she stated. "While coal is still burned and ash is being generated at Petersburg Generation Station, it is no longer sent to ponds."

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Unsafe pollutant levels found at Indiana, Kentucky coal plants