On November 28th, a new report entitled, Cap and Run: Toxic Coal Ash Left Behind by Big Polluters Threatens Illinois Water (issued by Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network, and Sierra Club), revealed unsafe concentrations of dangerous coal ash pollutants in groundwater at 22 of 24 reporting coal ash dump sites in Illinois.
Representatives from across Illinois traveled to the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield to participate in the press conference, mini-advocacy day, and delivery of petitions to the Governor.
One of the speakers during the press conference was David Villalobos representing the coalition work being done by Clean Power Lake County & 4th Ward Alderman from the City of Waukegan.
“I fear Waukegan’s lakefront will see another Superfund site located on the NRG property and have history repeat itself. When the coal power plant is retired, I want to have assurances that Waukegan residents won’t, once again, have to pay for the pollution left behind. That is why we need guarantees that these companies will be held accountable for the cost to clean up their coal ash. This is critical. We saw the last operator of the Waukegan coal plant go into bankruptcy with no requirements to address its toxic legacy.”
Rev. Cindy Shepherd, Central Illinois Outreach Director of Faith in Place, shared her personal testimony about the gift of water and the need to address coal ash pollution across the state:
“Clean water, drinkable water, swimmable water, water that supports life is a beautiful gift that I have enjoyed all my life. I remember the shock I felt the day I understood that coal ash threatens the water that is our life here in Illinois.
It's horrified me that, while I was a pastor happily baptizing beautiful babies in this sparkly liquid, poisonous waste from coal-fired power plants was quietly, silently building up in dumps all across my prairie state home. That waste, coal ash, is full of all the heavy metals and toxins that were once locked beneath the earth's surface in coal. I knew that burning coal released dangerous elements. That's why I'd supported air pollution limits and scrubbers that keep those things out of the atmosphere. But for years, I didn't take the next logical step and ask where those toxins went, if not into the air we breathe.
About five years ago, I found out. I went to a place near the site of the old, decommissioned Vermilion power plant, and learned that the ashes from all those years of burning coal had been dumped into big pits near the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. The ground in Central Illinois is often pretty soggy. The swamp we used to be is always lurking under our feet. And on this soggy day, we could see clearly where the seepage of water from the coal ash dumps was breaking through the ground and trickling into the river.
It is a pretty river. I'm not the only one who says so. This stretch of it is the only National Scenic River in Illinois. It is being poisoned, slowly but surely now. If a huge rain event happens and the earthen walls of the ash pit fail, the damage will be more dramatic. But it's catastrophic, whether it comes slowly or quickly. And this coal ash site is one of more than two dozen dangerous coal ash impoundments, located all across the state.
I went to Springfield on Nov. 18th and listened to folks from all over the state who were not only horrified by the damage that coal ash is doing but who were also deeply determined to help policymakers come up with a way to keep health destroying toxins out of the waters of Illinois. I'm sorry it has taken us so long to address this issue. But I'm proud of the grassroots community groups, the people of faith, and the hard-working public officials who gathered in Springfield to begin the process of change.”
Celeste Flores, Lake County Outreach Director, also shared her reason to travel from Waukegan to Springfield on November 18th.
“My parents and faith have shaped my morals and values. I cannot stand idly by while fossil fuel companies like NRG Energy (which have no ties to the community) make a profit off of polluting and harming the health of communities across IL.
Fossil Fuel companies across the state are planning to cap and leave the coal ash ponds. Putting a cap on the top of an unlined pond will do little to nothing to stop contamination of groundwater, and these ponds continue to damage the environment. The groundwater can then contaminate surface water, as I have seen on the Middle Fork River, where coal ash from the Vermilion Power Station is seeping through the riverbank and into the river.
I look forward to everyone across the state coming together and telling their legislators that Illinois residents and taxpayers deserve clean, safe water and to hold polluters accountable for their mess.”
As people of faith, we are called to act for clean water for all people and creatures.
State legislators need to hear from you about this urgent issue. It is time for legislators to address Illinois' coal ash crisis and deliver comprehensive reform to state standards that have lacked necessary protections for too long. Sign our petition urging our state legislators to stop coal ash pollution today!
Learn more about coal ash groundwater contamination and how it impacts communities.