Coal Ash Wednesday: Cap-in-place is the industry's new Plan A

Just when Illinois thought it was making progress:

The approved version of the Illinois bill had broad support from environmental advocates, even though some of the provisions they sought had been softened. Introduced in January by state Sen. Scott Bennett, the original version would have required the full removal of coal ash from storage pits and would have limited the repurposing of coal ash for uses like creating cement and concrete. After resistance from Dynegy, a Texas-based electric utility and subsidiary of Vistra Energy, as well as from the Illinois Farm Bureau and local waste management association, the legislation was modified.

In the final version, coal plant owners have the option to cover the ash pits with soil and leave the waste where it is, known as "cap in place." Operators would first have to conduct an environmental review to show the method would be equally protective as removing the coal ash.

There is really only one legitimate result of that review: In the absence of a bottom liner, there is no "equal protection." The only potential locations where cap-in-place might be comparable to a lined pit are those with densely-packed clay. North Carolina has a few locations that might work, but (unless I'm mistaken) none of our current coal ash impoundments meet that criteria. And Illinois is even worse, thanks to glaciation that gave that state some of the best soil in the world. In other words, an across-the-board approval of cap-in-place with no consideration of geologic strata is just bad policy. And of course Trump's EPA is making this issue even worse:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently has a requirement that most coal ash waste sites close by October 2020, though that could change under the Trump administration. It has already relaxed standards set by the agency's 2015 Coal Ash Disposal Rule, and it could weaken guidelines further. Under the new Illinois bill, plans to close any coal ash site would have to be at least as protective as federal standards.

"There are significant gaps that remain in the federal rule," said Jennifer Cassel, an attorney for Earthjustice who advised the Illinois bill's sponsors during the amendment process.

It goes without saying (but I'm saying it anyway), getting Trump out of office is actually a life or death proposition.