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Illinois EPA set to review Edwards coal ash pond closure plan soon

Vistra is set to submit its plan to close the ash pond at the E.D. Edwards coal-burning power plant south of Bartonville by the end of this month.

The proposal to cap the unlined coal ash pond in place instead of moving the ash to another location is raising concerns among some environmentalists.

Illinois Sierra Club senior campaign representative Christine Nanacelli calls the Vistra proposal "the bare minimum," and says leaving the coal ash in place poses a threat to the Illinois River and groundwater.

"In instances like this, where heavily polluting coal ash waste is active in groundwater, it needs to be removed. It needs to be taken out of that groundwater and put in a high and dry permitted landfill, with adequate protections to make sure that no leaching is possible," Nanacelli said.

Vistra's plan calls for removing all liquid waste from the 91-acre pond before consolidating the ash. IEPA regulations call for Vistra to continue monitoring the site for at least the next 30 years following the closure, or until it meets groundwater protection standards.

"The Sierra Club’s characterization of this closure plan is not grounded in scientific reality for the Edwards site and distorts the applicable state and federal rules that ensure a responsible plan is adopted," said a Vistra spokesperson in a statement.

The spokesperson noted no particular closure method is required or presumed to be more protective than another under state regulations.

"The alternative sought by the Sierra Club would result in at least 250,000 truckloads of material being hauled 24 miles from the site, equating to a truck coming or going to the site every few minutes for 7 years. Their proposition does not achieve groundwater protection standards more quickly than the closure method we propose," said the spokesperson.

Vistra says the nearest landfill that could receive the coal ash waste is in Hopedale.

Nanacelli said she's hopeful the IEPA will reject Vistra's permit to close the ash pond in place.

"They need to send those plans back and demand stronger closure plans. So the jury's still out. I'm cautiously optimistic and hopeful that the Illinois EPA can can rise to this challenge," she said.

Vistra must submit its application to the IEPA by July 1. An additional round of public hearings will happen later this year. Those hearings aren't scheduled yet.

The E.D. Edwards power plant is set to close by the end of this year, per a consent decree Vistra entered to settle a Clean Air Act lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

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Corrected: June 30, 2022 at 4:31 PM CDT
Vistra no longer goes by "Vistra Energy," but Vistra Inc. or simply Vistra.
Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.