An Illinois environmental group filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the owner of a shuttered power plant where contaminants from old coal ash ponds are seeping into the state's only National Scenic River, saying federal and state environmental agencies aren't doing enough to stop it.
Prairie Rivers Network claims that Dynegy Midwest Generation is violating the Clean Water Act and harming the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River because elevated levels of heavy metals — including arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and manganese — are oozing from the riverbanks after groundwater flows through three unlined ash pits. The pits, more than 40 feet deep in some areas, contain more than 3 million cubic yards (2.29 million cubic meters) of ash deposited between 1955 and 2011.
The river, a favorite with kayakers and canoers, flows along the eastern boundary of the former Vermilion Power Station about 135 miles (217 kilometers) south of Chicago, and a 17-mile (27-kilometer) section was designated a scenic river.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Urbana on behalf of Prairie Rivers Network. It asks the court to order Dynegy to stop unpermitted discharges and pay civil penalties.
Vistra Energy, which merged with Dynegy, said it was reviewing the lawsuit. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said the company must submit a closure plan in October based on groundwater studies.
The site is not subject to 2015 Obama-era regulations for ash ponds because it closed in 2011. Earthjustice also has sued to EPA to require it to regulate ash ponds at closed power plants.