Florida DEP fines Gulf Power for unlined coal ash landfill
- State officials in Florida said a coal ash landfill operated by Gulf Power from the 1970s is in breach of Florida law, as reported by the Pensacola News Journal. Gulf Power conducted tests last fall, indicating the unlined facility likely leaked contaminants in the past into the nearby Escambia River.
- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a consent order to Gulf Power in January stipulating a $32,500-fine and requiring the company to create a four-year plan to rectify contamination threats posed by the site. The company seeks to renew its federal permit for the landfill despite an eroded cap and higher-than-permitted copper levels and boron found in the surrounding soil.
- Emerald Coastkeeper, a local chapter of the Waterkeeper Alliance, has been monitoring the site and told the Pensacola News Journal that the organization believes the site continues to leach contaminants. The organization is pushing to include language in the renewed permit requiring Gulf Power to put additional containment measures in place to reduce the likelihood of future leaks.
Gulf Power issued a statement on its website, saying that an "assessment monitoring program" was put into effect on March 12. The company will monitor cap integrity and repair any substandard portions. Subsequent Gulf Power tests from this year were within limits stipulated in the company's permit.
Recent proposed amendments to EPA regulations on coal ash landfills aim to clarify containment standards at those facilities and amend previous guidelines set in April 2015. Many older coal ash landfills are unlined and sit next to waterways, posing an increased maintenance burden as regulations tighten. Florida is of particular concern due to its extensive coastline, internal waterways and wetlands. Ongoing incidents involving ash spilling into nearby waterways have raised awareness of the environmental impact of coal ash.
Last month, NextEra Energy Inc. — the parent company of Florida Power & Light — announced its plan to buy Gulf Power as part of a larger, $6.475-billion deal. Increased revenue from new acquisitions comes with a caveat for Next Era: Failing to properly maintain legacy coal ash disposal infrastructure means paying potentially hefty fines. In this instance it's a relative slap on the wrist, but another recent case saw Alabama Power fined $1.25 million over its coal ash ponds.
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