Two environmental groups filed suit in federal court Thursday seeking to stop the alleged discharge of pollutants into Herrington Lake from a coal-fired plant that generates electricity.
The Sierra Club and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance say that Kentucky Utilities is violating the federal Clean Water Act in its handling, storage, treatment, transportation and storage of coal ash waste at the E.W. Brown Generating Station near Burgin in Mercer County.
In a statement, KU vice president of communications Chris Whelan said, “We firmly believe E.W. Brown is in compliance with all applicable environmental regulations and we’re prepared to defend our case in court, if necessary.”
In recent years, KU has denied that illegal discharges or adverse effects from pollution occurred.
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KU holds a permit that allows it to discharge pollutants into Curds Inlet on the lake, the suit says. But the suit adds that KU has discharged into a stream that flows into another inlet called HQ Inlet that is not authorized by permit.
“This contamination may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to aquatic life, other wildlife and the people who make use of those waters,” the suit says.
The environmental groups seek to compel KU to “cease all unpermitted discharges of pollutants” at E.W. Brown; to pay civil penalties for violations of federal law; and to take “all actions necessary to eliminate the endangerment to human health and the environment in and around” the generating station.
The suit says neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the state “has commenced or is diligently prosecuting a civil or criminal action” to address violations.
Coal ash is the substance left over from coal combustion. Kentucky is a top producer of ash because it has numerous coal-fired power plants such as E. W. Brown.
Coal ash contains pollutants such as arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, which can leach out of storage facilities and into streams and water supplies, threatening human health and wildlife.
E.W. Brown plant has 6 million cubic yards of buried coal ash that sit in contact with groundwater flowing into the lake, the suit says.
KU’s own water sampling detected arsenic, selenium, boron and lead in concentrations that exceed limits set for those pollutants by the EPA.
Whelan, the KU spokeswoman, said state authorities have found no evidence of contamination to the drinking water supplies. In addition, the cities of Danville and Harrodsburg affirmed that their water supplies have not been affected by plant activities, Whelan said.
“To ensure Herrington Lake and other drinking water supplies remain protected for the long term, the main ash pond was shut down in 2008 and we have approved plans with the state that include continued monitoring of Herrington Lake as well as lining a gypsum pond, shutting down a gypsum dewatering facility and eliminating discharges from the lined auxiliary pond,” Whelan said.
But the environmental groups say in their suit that “KU has not made more up-to-date water quality sampling data for HQ Stream.”
The suit says that in April, KU proposed to the Kentucky Division of Water a plan for additional monitoring and study of selenium pollution in Herrington. But the plan does not propose any new remedial measures to address either existing contamination or the ongoing flow of contaminated groundwater into surface waters.
Herrington Lake is a popular destination for residents and tourists and is the source of drinking water for thousands of people in Boyle, Mercer and Garrard counties.
“My husband and I live on Herrington Lake, and depend on the lake for our drinking water, as well as swimming and kayaking there like many others,” said Julie Pease, a resident quoted in a press release about the suit. “With so many families enjoying the lake like we do, we shouldn’t have to worry about what toxic levels mean to our health....”
Ward Wilson, executive director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, said the group has tried for years to get the toxic releases stopped “to no avail.”
“Now we feel legal action is necessary to promptly correct this threat to wildlife and water quality that has been going on for too long already,” Wilson said in the release.