South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Demanding Action on Expired Permits for Coal-Fired Power Plants
Posted: December 3, 2019

Did you know that there are three coal-fired power plants operating in South Carolina on expired NPDES permits? National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits govern discharges of wastewater or effluent into waterways that, in these cases, contain toxic metals like arsenic, selenium and mercury that can remain in the environment for years. Exposure to these substances can be harmful to wildlife and can cause cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders and cancer in people. Having current permits is necessary because they control the levels of discharge for these effluents and may also require the use of newer technologies to ensure advanced treatment of dangerous toxins before discharge.

The NPDES permits for Cross, Winyah and Wateree generating stations have been expired for years. Cross’s permit expired in August 2010, Winyah’s permit expired in July 2011 and Wateree’s permit expired in December 2012. While the facilities did apply for renewals in 2010, DHEC has yet to act on the applications.

Regulatory inaction allows these plants to operate on the long-expired permits even though the EPA promulgated new effluent limitation guidelines or “ELGs” for coal ash facilities in 2015.

SCELP, working on behalf of the Sierra Club, has notified DHEC of the many dangers resulting from its delay in acting on the permit applications and the importance of incorporating the new ELGs into every new NPDES permit for coal-fired power plants. If necessary, we are ready to challenge DHEC’s extensive inaction on these vital NPDES permits.

Meanwhile, in early November, the Environmental Protection Agency signaled that it would begin the process to weaken some of the new ELGs. SCELP will also keep monitoring and, if necessary, challenge any attempt by the EPA to diminish surface water protections for South Carolinians.

The Cross Generating Station operates two Ash Ponds and two Landfills between Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie (top right). Source: Google Earth.