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updated: 2/27/2014 6:06 PM

Pollution panel weighing new rules for coal ash

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- An Illinois pollution panel is gathering public input on proposed rules that would require stricter monitoring of groundwater near coal-ash ponds throughout the state.

But environmental groups and residents told the Pollution Control Board at a public hearing in Springfield on Wednesday that rules proposed by the state Environmental Protection Agency are inadequate to protect ground and surface water from potential contamination from the almost 90 coal-ash ponds in the state.

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The state's coal-burning power plants produce an estimated 4.4 million tons of coal ash each year, and much of it is stored in big pits or ponds, some of which were built decades ago with no lining.

The proposed rules would require the plants to conduct more regular groundwater monitoring to ensure the ponds are not leaking, and report their findings to the state. If contamination is found, companies could either correct the problem or close the site.

An attorney for Midwest Generation, which operates several Illinois power plants, said the rules could leave companies with open-ended liabilities, even for long-closed storage sites.

Environmental groups say they're unhappy that the proposed rules would allow the ponds to remain open even if they are contaminating groundwater, The State Journal-Register in Springfield reported.

They also want coal ash ponds to be closed and the contents moved to dry, lined landfills, and want guarantees that power companies, not the public, would pay to clean up any contamination.

Residents said they want to prevent an accident like one recently in North Carolina, where a massive coal-ash spill contaminated the Dan River with high levels of toxic metals.

"We're surrounded in Peoria by these coal plants. It's a real fear," said Tracy Fox, who was among several Peoria-area residents at the hearing.

A second hearing will be held in Springfield on Thursday. Two more will be held in Chicago in mid-May.

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