The coal-fired Rodemacher plant in Boyce, which is half-owned by Lafayette Utilities System, is among several facilities cited for causing toxic groundwater contamination by a report released this week. But CLECO, which owns a third of the plant and half of another cited, says not so fast.
Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club issued a report this week on what they call a nationwide problem involving coal ash contamination of groundwater. The report, “In Harm’s Way: Lack of Federal Coal Ash Regulations Endangers Americans and Their Environment” points to more than three dozen new sites in 21 states where it alleges toxic coal waste has made water supplies unsafe, including parts of Pointe Coupee, Rapides and De Soto Parishes, where the coal-fired plants Big Cajun 2, Rodemacher and Dolet Hills operate, respectively. “In Harm’s Way” documents what it calls the steadily growing number of waters known to be poisoned by poor management of the toxic ash left over after coal is burned for electricity.
But CLECO is dismissing much of the report as inaccurate, at least as it pertains to Rodemacher and Dolet Hills. “The report had so many factual errors in it, and it also had a lot of misleading conclusions in it," says Robbie Laborde, CLECO’s general manager of environmental services. “We’d have to correct basically everything they said,” Laborde responds when asked for specifics about the alleged inaccuracies. “You know who put it out. It’s obviously from their point of view.”
Beginning with what he calls a misleading subtitle, the report insinuates a lack of coal ash regulation, Laborde notes, and that’s simply not the case — at least in this state. “I can speak for Louisiana, and Louisiana has been the one regulating. DEQ, our Louisiana environmental regulatory agency, has been regulating this since 1986 or ’87. So we have been subject to regulations for more than 20 years now, and our state is actually one of the more aggressive states that regulate this. Specifically we have been submitting semi-annual reports, where we take groundwater monitoring data, to the DEQ,” Laborde continues. “And we’ve been doing that since we’ve been regulated. And those reports show no groundwater contamination. The conclusions [the report] drew, especially for our facilities, [which is what] we’ll speak for, were false.”
It is indeed primarily federal regulators the report takes to task. “For years nobody, including the Environmental Protection Agency, has had a full picture of how much toxic waste is out there, where it is, or if it’s staying put. It has been dumped with no federal oversight, and utterly inadequate state policies,” says Jordan Macha, Sierra Club representative for the Sierra Club. “Now that we’re aware of the problem, it seems we are finding contamination everywhere we look.”
Toxic heavy metals, arsenic and lead were consistently found at levels well above what is considered safe for drinking water, according to the report. Its data shows that this toxic coal ash pollution is flowing into nearby communities, polluting private drinking water wells and even putting some public water supply wells at risk. The pollution in coal ash is known to cause cancer, organ disease, respiratory illnesses, and neurological damage and developmental problems, according to the Sierra Club.
“Communities affected by fly ash could gain protection from the EPA as well as be eligible for cleanup,” continues Macha. “The adoption of stronger federal regulation could change the health of untold numbers of regular folks whose only crime was living near a fly ash dumpsite but received the penalty of ill health. Clean air and clean water is a basic human right that no one should be denied.”
The report claims that nationwide states responsible for only four of the 35 sites have required an investigation to determine the scale of pollution. Not one state has required the toxic pollution to be stopped, the report claims, let alone cleaned up — further underscoring the need for strong federal regulations.
The report comes just days before the EPA begins a series of hearings across the country to gather public comment on new protections from toxic coal ash. On Sept. 8, a delegation of concerned residents from Louisiana will be attending the EPA hearing in Dallas to express their concerns regarding coal ash contamination across the state. Details on national hearings, including the Dallas hearing, can be found here
Read the full report here