Dozens of residents and activists attended listening sessions the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency held Tuesday night regarding coal ash pollution in Will County.
The state agency has been holding these sessions to hear from residents in “areas of environmental justice concern” as it prepares to draft rules about how coal ash ponds are to be monitored and closed, according to a public notice. The IEPA gave a presentation for two listening sessions at the Joliet Junior College Weitendorf Agriculture Center in Joliet Township.
Several people spoke about their frustration that sites such as NRG’s plant at the old Lincoln Stone Quarry still have coal ash-polluted groundwater. While NRG has said that the coal ash is not affecting the private wells of nearby residents, the company is getting pushback to remove the coal ash entirely. The company said that would be a cumbersome process and it would prefer to cover the site.
A man who lives close to the old quarry, and did not want his name used for this story, said he has been frustrated for years about the lack of action to clean up the coal ash. He uses a private well, which, he said, he doesn’t use for drinking or cooking water because he worries it’s contaminated. He said he can’t afford to have his own well water tested to make sure it is safe to drink.
Even with the IEPA drafting rules regarding coal ash ponds, the man said he’s become exasperated by the lack of action to ensure he and his neighbors have safe drinking water.
“Nothing’s happened,” he said. “All this is to me is just talk. I call it BS.”
Along with some activists, the man also decried how many of the residents who live around the old Lincoln Stone Quarry are black and Latino.
Veronica Gloria, the executive director of the Spanish Community Center in Joliet, told the IEPA representatives she was concerned that Spanish-speaking residents living near coal ash ponds were “in the dark” about the situation. She said there was a lack of communication to Spanish-speaking residents about an August meeting.
“I would really encourage those who are here to think outside of the box in terms of what is accessible to people in all languages,” she told the IEPA representatives.
The IEPA will take the public input into consideration when drafting rules. Once the draft is written, likely by March, the agency will make the rules public for further comment before filing them with the Illinois Pollution Control Board, which also will hold hearings before approving a final draft of the rules.
The IEPA also is welcoming comments via email about its rule drafting process at EPA.CoalAshRules@illinois.gov.