Here’s some hopeful environmental news: On the western edge of Orlando, a hidden monument to Florida’s dying love for dirty energy may finally be gone. And not a single soul will mourn his passing.
The hippopotamus in question: A 175-foot coal ash pile at the Orlando Public Utilities Commission’s Stanton Power Center site.
Across the country, coal ash, the waste leftover when coal is burned for energy, has been linked to a number of environmental issues, including groundwater pollution, airborne particle hazards, and devastating environmental disasters, including a dam failure at an ash pond in Tennessee. resulting in almost 1 billion pounds of sludge spilled onto houses and rivers. A 2015 rule passed by the Environmental Protection Agency required utilities and other coal miners to clean up ash piles but vacate hundreds of sites across the country.
This is somewhat understandable. Coal ash is one of the most common yet least regulated pollutants in the US, and dealing with it all in one go was a daunting prospect. But the proposed EPA rule would remove most of those exemptions, including the one for the Stanton ash dump.
This is good news for Central Florida residents who don’t need to be reminded of past sins. OUC is on track to go completely coal-free and is investing in more solar farms and other ways to generate truly renewable energy. The utility is poised to close the Stanton coal plant by 2025, two years earlier than originally planned. And in a January article, OUC officials indicated that their ash is not stored in “wet” facilities, which poses the greatest risk of spills or slower leaks seeping into groundwater. Instead, it’s stabilized as a mixture almost as hard as concrete, making air or water pollution unlikely, said Clint Bullock, general manager and CEO of the Orlando Public Utilities Commission.
Head of OUC: We are responsible for the transition to clean energy | A comment
But there can be no doubt that coal ash is a nasty stuff, containing heavy metals such as lithium, radium, cobalt and arsenic. Monitoring wells at all 15 Florida coal ash dumps (including Stanton) show some level of groundwater contamination, although OUC officials say their ash dump is not at fault. But once all sites are cleared, it won’t matter.
Defenders fear that the EPA, which issued the cleanup order, will not comply with it. “Until now, the level of compliance has been appalling,” says Lisa Nelson, senior lawyer for Earthjustice, which has filed a lawsuit against several coal ash facilities.
This is where the locals can have their say. The comment period on the proposed ash rule ends Monday, and strong expressions of support for a more inclusive rule should help EPA officials understand that these ash dumps will not be forgotten until they are gone.
Go here to register your comments.
Toxic Secret, an Today News special report on a potentially carcinogenic chemical that has been lurking in some of the Seminole County water sources for more than a decade.
The editorial board of the Today News is made up of Opinion Editor Chris Flucker, Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson, and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. Contact us at: [email protected].