South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Sierra Club files lawsuit over expired permits at three South Carolina coal plants
Posted: July 9, 2020

Pollution discharge permits at Cross, Wateree and Winyah expired years ago

COLUMBIA, S.C.—The Sierra Club today filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court demanding that state regulators protect South Carolina’s communities and waterways from mercury, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants by updating long-expired permits at three coal-burning power plants.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has failed in its obligation to protect the water quality and health of families living near the Cross, Winyah and Wateree coal plants, all of which are located in predominantly Black and low-income communities. At all three sites, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits—which monitor and limit industrial discharge into waterways—expired almost a decade ago.

• The last NPDES permit for the Cross Generating Station expired in August 2010. Cross, owned by the South Carolina Public Service Authority and operated by Santee Cooper, is a 1,833-megawatt plant located in Cross that discharges pollution into the Diversion Canal and Lake Moultrie. Lake Moultrie is one of the most popular recreational fishing and boating lakes in the South.

• The last NPDES permit for the Winyah Generating Station expired in July 2011. Winyah, owned by the South Carolina Public Service Authority and operated by Santee Cooper, is a 1,260-megawatt plant located in Georgetown that discharges into the North Santee River and Sampit River, via Turkey Creek, where the community fishes, crabs and shrimps.

• The last NPDES permit for the Wateree Steam Station expired in December 2012. Wateree, owned by Dominion Energy, is a 685-megawatt plant located in Eastover that discharges pollution into the Wateree River. The Wateree River flows beside Congaree National Park, one of the country's newest and most beloved parks.

The Sierra Club has filed suit to force DHEC to take action on these long-expired permits. For nearly a decade, these three coal plants have been releasing excessive and dangerous amounts of toxic pollution that can poison drinking water, make swimming and fishing unsafe, damage children's developmental health, and cause cancer.

Black South Carolinians living near these sites are already overburdened by health threats. According to DHEC’s own findings, African Americans are disproportionately impacted by conditions like asthma and heart disease and comprise nearly half the state’s deaths from coronavirus, while making up just 27% of the population.

Black residents shouldn’t also be burdened by toxic waterways near their homes, churches and schools, says Xavier Boatright, an organizing representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, who lives near the Cross coal plant.

“The people responsible for making sure our communities are safe and our water is clean have failed us,” Boatright said. “Black people, people of color and low-income South Carolinians shouldn’t have to beg for basic environmental and health protections that are rightfully ours.”

Under the federal Clean Water Act and the South Carolina Pollution Control Act, NPDES permits have a maximum term of five years to ensure regular re-evaluations of pollution control technologies, and to determine whether new technologies have become available that would justify stricter permit limits.

In addition, the permits at the Cross, Winyah and Wateree facilities haven’t incorporated the 2015 federal effluent limitation guidelines to regulate coal plant discharges. Until these new guidelines are incorporated into NPDES permits, massive outflows of toxic metals will continue, further damaging the environment and threatening people’s health.

“DHEC has caused serious harm to the health of South Carolinians by allowing these dirty, outdated coal plants to discharge even more toxic pollution into our waterways,” said Will Harlan, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in the Carolinas. “State regulators must put permit protections in place immediately, and Dominion Energy and Santee Cooper must start moving completely away from dirty, damaging fossil fuels and toward the clean, safe, affordable energy communities demand and deserve.”

SCELP staff attorney Leslie Lenhardt added, “We have expended our best efforts to move the needle on these permits, but DHEC steadfastly refuses to act. We have no other option at this point but to seek a judicial order requiring them to make a decision on these languishing applications.”

Media contacts:
Melissa Williams
Sierra Club
[email protected] or (828) 545-0443

Leslie Lenhardt, Esquire
South Carolina Environmental Law Project
[email protected] or (843) 527-0078

South Carolina Environmental Law Project is a nonprofit public interest law firm. Its mission is to protect the natural environment of South Carolina by providing legal services and advice to environmental organizations and concerned citizens and by improving the state’s system of environmental regulation.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.