Coal Ash Spills in Lake Michigan


Check out this photo that Mark Hoffman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal snapped on Monday of a dam collapse at a coal ash pond:

Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal SentinalMark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

The Journal Sentinel reports that a large section of a bluff used to contain coal ash at the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant broke on Monday, dumping ash and dirt into Lake Michigan. As you can see in the photo, a truck and some heavy machinery were also pushed into the lake. One of the first responders in the area noted that the debris “stretched 120 yards long and 50 to 80 yards wide at the bottom.” A spokesman for the company told the paper that the dam probably did contain coal ash, but said that they’d stopped dumping it there “several decades ago.”

The spill calls to mind the catastrophic dam break at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tennessee, back in December 2008. That spill dumped 1.1 billion gallons of coal slurry, and prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider how coal waste is handled. Although the EPA was on course to reclassify coal leavings as “hazardous waste” that needed special handling, that rule has been stuck in bureaucratic wrangling for more than two years. So for now, it’s still perfectly legal to store coal ash waste in retention ponds that are likely not lined or particularly well maintained.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.