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Report shows two Wyoming coal plants are contaminating groundwater, but the company says it’s in compliance

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PacifiCorp

A national report looking at coal ash sites and groundwater contamination was released Thursday, Nov. 3. According to the data, Wyoming has two coal plants that are in the top five nationally for most contaminated; however, the company in question disputes some of the accusations.

In their most recent report, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice looked at coal ash sites across the country. These sites are where waste produced from burning coal is stored – often in designated ponds or landfills. According to the report, the concern is that without proper care, unsafe levels of metals from the coal ash can leak into nearby groundwater.

The report found that 91 percent of U.S. coal fired plants have sites that are leaking metals into groundwater at high levels.

“Most sites have unsafe levels of arsenic, which is a carcinogen and neurotoxin,” said Abel Ross, co-author of the report. “Most sites have unsafe levels of Boron, which is toxic to developing children and to aquatic life when it gets out into the environment.”

Two of the top five most contaminated sites in the nation were PacifiCorp’s Naughton and Jim Bridger power plants in southwest Wyoming.

Ross said there are ways to remediate the issue, as coal ash can be stored safely in landfills – they just need to be lined, out of flood plains and covered.

“You put it in a place that’s stable and dry and not in a flood plain, and you line it and you cap it, and you can leave it,” Ross said.

He added that this is what is required under a federal law passed in 2015, which is often referred to as the ‘Coal Ash Rule.’

However, in a written response to Wyoming Public Media PacifiCorp claimed their sites are in full compliance and has made efforts to begin the process of remediating the sites. Additionally, PacifiCorp said in an email that after an initial quick review of the report there are “inaccurate” and “misleading” statements.

Keith Guille, the outreach and program manager for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency is aware of the sites and is working with the company to find solutions, like closure or remediation. However, currently the state does not have primacy in the regulating process, rather it is at the federal level with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) .

“Once we’re able to get more of the primacy and regulatory control here, we’ll work through that process to address those issues,” he said.

Guille said he hopes for the state agency to get control of the federal process from the EPA by the end of 2024.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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