- South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has signed legislation outlawing the dumping of coal ash from out-of-state in Class 2 South Carolina landfills, though the mandate excludes electric utilities that bury the toxic waste in DHEC-approved landfills under that agency's watch. The state legislation follows the federal government’s ash rule requiring new landfills be lined to prevent the leakage of coal ash. Nine of South Carolina’s 12 Class 2 landfills that can accept coal ash are unlined, according to Greenville News.
- Utility company Santee Cooper was one of the largest offenders, with most of the 358,000 tons of waste received at its Berkeley County landfill last fiscal year being coal ash.
- 30% of the waste that pulp and paper company KapStone buried last fiscal year at its unlined Berkeley County landfill was coal ash. And in that same timeframe, a federal nuclear reservation received nearly 30,000 tons of coal ash at two unlined Class 2 landfills in Aiken County, though the company has begun excavating it from one site and will install a multilayered geosynthetic cover system at the other one.
The governor’s move to keep out-of-state coal ash out of South Carolina’s Class 2 landfills is a first step toward addressing a large-scale problem. However, thousands of tons of this toxic waste are buried every year in unlined landfills, even as the federal government now requires new landfills to be lined to protect groundwater from ash contamination.
Further, some environmentalists argue that even if they are lined, Class 2 landfills should not accept coal ash, period; rather only more tightly regulated Class 3 landfills should receive it since it contains heavy metals, which eventually commonly contaminate groundwater.
Meanwhile, a number of South Carolina organizations claim they have been following regulations and operating adequately all along.
International Paper’s spokesperson Tom Ryan said in The Greenville News that its landfills were "established exclusively for mill operations” and operate “in compliance with all state and federal regulations." However, he admitted they have accepted coal ash on their unlined Georgetown landfill.
Barbara Smoak, a spokesperson for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, which manages the Savannah River Site (SRS) nuclear complex, said that SRS has followed state regulations and that the new federal rule doesn’t apply to SRS landfills because only electric utility and independent power producers are required to comply.
But Frank Holleman, an attorney with Virginia-based Environmental Law Center, finds this argument weak.
"The EPA clearly said the proper way is to put [coal ash] in a lined landfill. The Department of Energy should follow the best practices," he said, as reported in Greenville Online.
Others are moving forward with new, cautionary measures in place. Santee Cooper agreed to excavate all coal ash and underlying soil at the company’s shuttered coal-fired plant in Horry County and to handle it at its near-full landfill that has since closed. The waste will be sold, recycled, or placed in a Class 3 or better landfill. Utility SCE&G has also agreed to remove coal ash at its Richland County plant, and either sell or recycle it, or place it in at least a Class 3 landfill.