Largest U.S. Coal Ash Pond Little Blue to Close, but Future Rules Still Undecided
Neighbors recall promises that the eerie azure lake known as “Little Blue” would be made into a recreational jewel, complete with swimming, bike trails, and sailboats.
But the sprawling pond, its blue somewhat faded in recent years, delivered more blight than benefits to its rural surroundings near the West Virginia border in southwestern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania officials now have initiated shutdown of the facility south of the Ohio River, one of the largest U.S. impoundments for waste ash from coal power plants.
Little Blue Run’s operator, FirstEnergy, an electricity company based in Akron, Ohio, agreed to develop a plan to shut down the facility in a consent decree filed July 27 in federal court. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) characterized its agreement with FirstEnergy as a proactive move, to ensure the site “will not create an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.” But for years, neighbors have complained about the site’s impact on land, air, and water, detailing the site history and their woes, for example, at a 2010 federal hearing on whether the U.S. government should step in and regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.
Environmentalists praised the plan to shut down the 1,700-acre (688-hectare) Little Blue Run, saying it was the first time a regulatory agency has taken such aggressive action on a coal ash pond. But the larger question of how the United States will address coal ash—at 140 million tons a year, one of the nation’s largest waste streams—is still unanswered. Nearly four years since a dam collapse in Kingston, Tennessee, spilled 1.1 billion gallons (4 billion liters) of coal ash sludge into the Emory and Clinch rivers and the surrounding environment, regulations are stalled at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Little Blue is one of hundreds and hundreds of sites like this throughout the country,” said Lisa Widawsky Hallowell, a lawyer with the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) in Washington, D.C.