January 15, 2021

Chloe Johnson

DHEC Will Revisit SC Coal Pollution Permits That Expired A Decade Ago

South Carolina’s environmental regulator will review long-lapsed permits for three coal plants after a lawsuit claimed the state was not enforcing water pollution protections.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has come to an agreement with the environmental nonprofit Sierra Club, the group said in a press release Friday. Sierra Club was the plaintiff in a July lawsuit.

The action claimed the state failed in its duty to protect the environment as it waited to review water permits for the three stations for roughly a decade each. The plants are run by state-owned utility Santee Cooper and private utility Dominion Energy.

DHEC’s agreement with Sierra Club settles the suit and sets out a schedule for when the state will issue updated draft permits for the public to comment on.

The timeline in the agreement says:

  • A draft permit for Dominion Energy’s Wateree Station in Eastover will be released on July 1.
  • A draft permit for Santee Cooper’s Winyah Generating Station in Georgetown will be released on Oct. 1.
  • A draft permit for Santee Cooper’s Cross Generating Station in Berkeley County will be released on Oct. 1. “This is a huge success for the neighboring communities of the (Winyah) plant and the folks who’ve had concerns, the fishermen who’ve had concerns about these discharges on the Sampit River,” said Xavier Boatright, an organizer with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

DHEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The timeline to release permits may be delayed by as long as three months if a pending court challenge overturns the current water pollutions standards in place at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The decade in which DHEC did not act on water permits was filled with a similarly shifting regulatory landscape, as former President Barack Obama’s administration proposed stricter rules for coal plants that were also challenged. As the agency waited to address the permits, the old standards for the three plants stayed in effect, a loophole in the review process.

The existing EPA standards are much looser, as they were implemented under outgoing president Donald Trump.

“There’s nothing to say we’re going to be okay with the permit decision that’s made,” said Leslie Lenhardt, a S.C. Environmental Law Project attorney representing Sierra Club.

Still, she said, the settlement is “a good step in the right direction.”

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