- Now that Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL) has converted its Indy-based facility to run on natural gas, its coal ash ponds need to be closed. The current plan is to cover them with a waterproof liner and three feet of sand and soil, but leave the bottom of the ponds unlined, according to WFYI.
- Local environmental groups say this could lead to long-term groundwater contamination and are advocating for the ash to be moved to some type of lined pit or landfill site.
- The EPA recently introduced new regulations for coal ash storage that allow for state-specific plans, but they haven't taken effect yet. IPL plans to move forward with its current plan to close eight coal ash ponds by May 2021.
Since the EPA announced its Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) from Electric Utilities rule last year, the waste industry has seen new opportunities to work with power plants for safe disposal of their material. About 40% of the ash produced can be used for cement and plasterboard, but that still leaves a lot of material — the industry produced an estimated 130 million tons in 2014. States such as Kansas have already taken the lead on finalizing their own plans and more companies are finding opportunities for recycling the material.
If not properly maintained, coal ash can pose health risks to nearby residents through dust and possible groundwater contamination. In April, Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia introduced a bill called the Coal Ash Landfill Safety Act which would require stricter monitoring and prevention measures at these sites. This would include a prohibition on coal ash within five feet of groundwater.
Indiana currently has 84 coal ash storage ponds and the state Department of Environmental Management recently held a hearing to discuss how they should be dealt with. It's unclear how the state's new regulations could affect projects that are already closed or in progress. The agency aims to finish a draft of its plan by the end of the year and final approval by the EPA is required.