The Little Blue Regional Action Group, along with attorneys from the Environmental Integrity Project and Public Justice, are taking on the nation's largest coal ash dump site. In a notice of intent to sue (NOI), the groups allege FirstEnergy's Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment is in violation of numerous state and federal laws. Part of the impoundment near FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield plant is in West Virginia; the other part is in Pennsylvania.
"All of it threatens the Ohio River, a major source of drinking water, as well as ground water, which is contaminated, and local fish and wildlife," said Lisa Widawsky Hallowell, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.
During the process of burning coal, coal ash and other waste is produced, which the Mansfield plant sends down a seven-mile pipeline to the Little Blue Run impoundment site.
The NOI states that leaks, seeps, and direct discharges of toxic pollution from the impoundment violate the federal Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Act. The groups said now is the time for FirstEnergy to clean up the mess it made.
"The first thing they need to do is to isolate the waste from the environment. The second thing they need to do is to clean up the ground water in the areas that are polluted, and the third thing they need to do is treat permanent discharges, selenium and boron, so they comply with their permits," said Richard Webster, attorney with Public Justice.
But, FirstEnergy said the groups have their facts wrong.
"The bottom line from our standpoint is that we are compliant with all state and federal operating permits and authorizations," said FirstEnergy Spokesman Mark Durbin, "I think the groups took a few liberties on some of their interpretations of data that we would challenge."
FirstEnergy had sought last year to expand the Little Blue Run site, but in December the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a temporary halt to those plans. The current site is expected to reach its permitted capacity sometime between 2016 and 2018. Durbin said the company is looking into building a new site that would be lined and include all new technology to keep it compliant with federal and state laws.
In the meantime, Durbin said "we have a very extensive testing program in place out there regarding groundwater, there are 42 different groundwater monitoring wells, 22 surface water monitoring points, 8 different other domestic water wells that are sampled every month or a couple of times a year."
All of those results, added Durbin, are sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.