WHEATLAND – A national environment protection organization last week filed an intent to sue notice against Basin Electric Power Cooperative, owners of the Laramie River Station generating plant here, charging the company had violated mandatory reporting provisions of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
At issue are several retention ponds used to store coal ash, a liquid byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity. It’s comprised of ash and other waste produced by scrubbers installed in the exhaust to remove sulfur dioxide from the gasses before they enter the atmosphere.
In its letter of intent to sue, the Sierra Club said the retention ponds at the LRS plant “are believed to include” a laundry-list of heavy metals and chemical contaminants, including mercury, lead and arsenic, and “may also contain radioactive materials.”
There are five ponds at LRS, including three designed as primary storage, or impoundments, for coal ash and two described as emergency holding ponds. The total storage capacity of the five ponds is listed at more than 3,200-acre-feet, according to the Sierra Club letter.
Wyoming Sierra Club chapter director Connie Wilbert, of Laramie, said an Emergency Action Plan released in April 2017 featured redactions of what her group believes were key pieces of information, including emergency contacts at LRS. That information, she said, is vital to protect the health and safety of neighbors of the plant, as well as being required information under the RCRA.
“Our basic concern is there are several things that are required to be in this Emergency Action Plan, which the company was required to develop, it simply does not have,” Wilbert said. “Our concern is we think it’s a basic public health and safety issue.”
Basin Electric spokesperson Curt Pearson said Friday the company received the notification of intent to sue on Monday, Feb. 5. A press release dated Thursday, Feb. 8, said the company has provided an updated version of the EAP on its website which includes the previously-redacted material in question.
The plan was developed last year by an independent consulting firm in compliance with the Coal Combustion Residual Rule, detailing emergency response plans in place in the event of a coal ash impoundment spill, according to the press release. The plan was posted on the Basin Electric Cooperative website at www.basinelectric.com in May 2017. The items redacted from the initial upload of the plan included the names and contact information of eight, private land owners adjacent to the plant “for reasons of protecting their private information,” according to the release.
Also not included in the initial posting was direct contact information for employees at the LRS plant, again to protect personal privacy, Pearson said.
“If there was any confusion (caused by the initial redactions), it was unintentional,” he said. “Obviously, people in this area know who to call if there’s an emergency.
“In our opinion, (the redaction) was more of a routine thing,” Pearson said. “If someone finds or believes the paperwork is incomplete, we certainly would disclose the information, and we did so.”
Contact information for plant employees “is important that it be part of the public record,” Wilbert said. “The public needs to know who to contact and how to contact them if an accident does occur.”
So, the future of any potential law suit remains unclear. Under a formal notification of intent to file suit, the respondent – in this case, Basin Electric – is given 60 days to address the issues raised. Pearson said the company believes, by making the full EAP available on its website, it has complied and addressed Sierra Club’s concerns.
Wilbert said Friday she wasn’t aware the company had provided an updated version of the EAP on its website. When informed it was updated and available, she said the group would need to examine the documents to determine if its concerns had been addressed.
“Our intention with sending them the notice of intent to sue, what the letter says, if you do not correct this, we will sue,” Wilbert said. “We haven’t sued because we’re hoping they’ll correct the deficiencies. If they’ve done that, that’s good news.”
In a follow-up email dated Saturday, Feb. 10, Wilbert acknowledge the updated information on the Basin Electric website. She said her organization will continue to review the documents, including maps which show failure at one of the coal ash impoundment ponds at the Laramie River Station site could send ash into the Laramie River and the Greyrocks Reservoir.
“We will be reviewing the revised Emergency Action Plan to determine whether it now complies with the legal requirements to inform and protect residents and communities downstream of these high hazard coal ash ponds,” Wilber wrote.