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Sierra Club Calls Water Treatment Permit Ruling Landmark

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The Sierra Club is calling a circuit court decision to overrule a Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet permit that allowed a coal-burning power plant to dump polluted water into the Ohio River a landmark.

Louisville Gas and Electric’s Trimble County power plant uses settling ponds for wastewater before sending it into the Ohio River. The Energy and Environment Cabinet issued a permit for this treatment effective April 2010. Sierra Club Kentucky Energy Chair Wallace McMullen said the permitted treatment isn’t enough to keep the water clean.

“We were fairly appalled that they were letting water which has been used to try to absorb all the nasty poisons in the flue gas – arsenic, mercury, barium, what have you – and it’s just going straight into the Ohio without any significant treatment,” he said.

While McMullen took issue with the power plant’s treatment process, he said no significant research has been done on the effect of wastewater discharge.

The judge’s opinion said the Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of updating standards for scrubber wastewater treatment. The effluent limitations were last updated thirty years ago. The EPA conducted a study in 2009 that found settling ponds inadequate for reducing metals in the wastewater that led to the upcoming guideline change.

MucMullen said there are plants dumping toxins into main waterways both nationally and in Kentucky, which makes this decision one of precedent.

“This is the first time that a rather deficient permit has been overturned and the judge has remanded it and said do it better,” he said.

Kentucky Division of Water spokesperson Allison Fleck said the state energy cabinet is reviewing the ruling and weighing its options for possible implications it could have on other power plants similar to the one in Trimble County.

Whitney grew up listening to Car Talk to and from her family’s beach vacation each year, but it wasn’t until a friend introduced her to This American Life that radio really grabbed her attention. She is a recent graduate from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where she studied journalism. When she’s not at WKMS, you can find her working on her backyard compost pile and garden, getting lost on her bicycle or crocheting one massive blanket.
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