January 15, 2021

Paola Tristan Arruda

DHEC Agrees To Update Pollution Permits For Three Coal Plants Affecting Waterways

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s environmental regulators have agreed to update long-expired permits for three of the state’s coal plants.

The decision comes after a lawsuit claimed the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control was failing to enforce water pollution protections.

In July 2020, the environmental nonprofit Sierra Club, with support from the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, filed suit to force DHEC to take action on the outdated permits for the three plants. The plants are either run by Santee Cooper or are owned by Dominion Energy.

SCELP staff attorney Leslie Lenhardt said the plant operations have National Pollution Elimination Discharge System permits which monitor and limit industrial discharge into the waterways.

These permits are supposed to be renewed every five years, but the suit claims the permits have been expired for 8 to 10 years for certain plants.

“The main thing that we were concerned about is that the community and the residents that live around these facilities have experienced injury to their livelihood, their life, and sometimes their health,” Lenhardt said. “There are many residents who regularly fish in these ponds and they can’t do that anymore out of concern for the environmental contamination.”

The environmental group said many of the people impacted by DHEC’s lack of action are low-income and minority residents who live near the plants.

While Lenhardt considers the agreement a “win” she says they aren’t necessarily committed to accepting DHEC’s decision.

“We will be evaluating the application and following the public process, so it’s a great move in the right direction, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with the permit decision,” Lenhardt said.

According to the agreement, DHEC will issue updated draft permits for public comment on the following schedule:

  • Dominion Energy’s Wateree Station in Eastover, July 1
  • Santee Cooper’s Winyah Generating Station in Georgetown, Oct. 1
  • Santee Cooper’s Cross Generating Station in Pineville, Oct. 1

According to a release sent out by the environmental group, the permit deadlines can be extended by three months if the Biden Administration rescinds current water pollution standards in place as of 2020 or if a court challenges the rules.

There will be a 60-day public comment period when the permits are drafted.

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