Mobile Baykeeper, SELC sue Alabama Power to stop continued coal ash pollution in Mobile-Tensaw River Delta

Press Release | September 26, 2022

MOBILE, Alabama – Today, the Southern Environmental Law Center and former US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Richard Moore filed a lawsuit against Alabama Power on behalf of Mobile Baykeeper alleging the company’s illegal plan to use more than 21 Leaving permanent millions of tons of coal ash at the Barry facility is being challenged in an uncased pit within the floodplain on the banks of the Mobile River.

“The Barry facility is the only major utility coal ash lagoon left in a low-lying coastal area in the Southeast that is not already cleaned or on track for recycling or for safe storage off waterways.” says Barry Brock, director of the SELC office in Alabama. “It’s time for Alabama Power to face the fact that leaving wet, polluting coal ash on the banks of the Mobile River is not a long-term solution – it’s a disaster.”

For decades, coal ash at the Barry Mill has been contaminating groundwater with high levels of arsenic and other pollutants. Alabama Power’s plan to dump millions of tons of coal ash in a pit adjacent to the Mobile River and in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is causing ongoing pollution.

In addition, the Mobile region is one of the rainiest areas in the United States. When the delta floods, it diverts water across the delta down the Mobile and Tensaw Rivers into Mobile Bay. There have been two major coal ash disasters in recent years when riverfront coal ash deposits in Kingston, Tennessee (2008) and on the Dan River in North Carolina and Virginia (2014) failed, releasing millions of tons of toxic coal ash into adjacent rivers and endangering them downstream communities and businesses.

“The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Mobile Bay are invaluable assets to Coastal Alabama,” said Cade Kistler, Baykeeper at Mobile Baykeeper. “These waters are the bedrock of the region’s economy, quality of life and environment. Alabama Power’s plan to dump its 21 million tons of coal ash on the banks of the Mobile River, Delta and just upstream of Mobile Bay allows for unlimited groundwater contamination and puts the Alabama coast at risk of catastrophic spills like those experienced in the past happened in Tennessee and North Carolina.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, which governs the closure of coal ash lagoons across the country, includes several performance standards that prohibit utilities from leaving their coal ash in groundwater. But that is exactly what Alabama Power’s decommissioning plan would do for Plant Barry’s coal ash lagoon, where coal ash is saturated with groundwater. The rule requires that coal ash storage owners who cannot meet performance standards for leaving coal ash in place must remove the ash for drying, lined landfill, or recycling.

On July 20, 2022, Mobile Baykeeper announced its intention to file a lawsuit against Alabama Power to enforce the requirements of the coal ash rule. The required 60-day notice period has now expired without a corrected plan from Alabama Power, allowing Baykeeper and SELC to file suit in the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama to enforce federal law requirements.

In the Southeast, other utilities are removing more than 270 million tons of coal ash from unlined waterfront coal ash lagoons. South Carolina’s utility, Duke Energy of North Carolina, and utility Dominion Energy of Virginia are all excavating their waterfront uncased coal ash deposits.

Georgia Power — owned by the same company as Alabama Power — is excavating approximately 65 million tons of uncased coal ash deposits, including a plan announced in June to recycle 9 million tons of coal ash into concrete at the Bowen plant. Alabama Power is the only major utility in the Southeast not to excavate any of its waterfront unlined coal ash lagoons, and Alabama is the only Southeast state not to have a single waterfront unlined coal ash lagoon excavated.