Utah Power Plant Accused of Using Fake Farm to Divert Contaminated Waste to Circumvent Clean Water Act

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Huntington Power Plant (photo: State of Utah)

A Utah power plant is using an adjacent “farm” to evade the Clean Water Act by spraying polluted water on the property, after which the toxins leach into the soil and eventually into groundwater, according to two environmental groups.


HEAL Utah and the Sierra Club have notified (pdf) PacifiCorp, owner of the Huntington Power Plant (pdf), that it intends to sue the company for dumping water polluted with coal ash onto the “farm.” The Sierra Club got suspicious when PacifiCorp withdrew its permit for dumping into nearby Huntington Creek. “That was a red flag,” Lindsay Beebe, a local Sierra Club organizer, told ThinkProgress, “because they had a permit to have runoff from their plant site run into Huntington [Creek], and it indicated they were no longer doing that anymore.”


Instead, the plant is diverting two streams that run from the company’s unlined landfills into a holding pond, from where the water is spread onto the “farm.” Thus, the plant avoids treating the runoff, which would be required because the nearby Huntington Creek is judged to be an impaired waterway.


“Because the creek is impaired, they would have to treat the wastewater to quite a high standard,” Richard Webster, a senior attorney with the nonprofit law firm Public Justice, told ThinkProgress. But spraying the polluted water on a farm doesn’t make the pollution go away, Webster added. “They just keep shifting it around the place, but in the end the pollution is getting into the stream by hook or by crook,” he said.


The company’s own testing shows what kind of pollutants are being dumped, according to Beebe. There are high levels of boron and mercury on the site.


“Companies try everything they can to escape the Clean Water Act, and that seems pretty apparent here,” Jack Tuholske, an environmental attorney not involved with the case and current director of the Water and Justice Program at the Vermont Law School, told ThinkProgress. “They’re trying to create a loophole to irrigate, and it poses some serious issues of a company trying to avoid its responsibility to protect waters from pollution.”


The notice of intent to sue (pdf) also cites unpermitted discharge being dumped directly into Huntington Creek and a poorly managed coal storage pile that has been discharging pollutants into the creek. PacifiCorp has 60 days to respond to the claims before the case moves into court.


“Instead of moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic, it’s time to start doing something real,” Webster told ThinkProgress. “The question is not if they have to clean it up, it’s when. They really may as well bite the bullet and clean it up now, as opposed to continuing to make the problem worse and building up more liability for their shareholders.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

A Utah Power Plant’s Scheme to Circumvent the Clean Water Act (by Natasha Geiling, ThinkProgress)

An Energy Company’s Fake Farm, Watered with Heavy Metal Rain (by Richard Webster, Public Justice)

Notice of Intent to File Citizens Suit for Violations of the Clean Water Act (Public Justice) (pdf)

Coal Power Plant in Utah has not been Inspected for 12 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

When Companies Break Environmental Laws, Why are Responsible Individuals not Prosecuted? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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