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Federal power plant in Tennessee looking to dump coal ash on SC

Coal Ash Cleanup

Heavy equipment excavates soil around the decommissioned Dan River coal-fired power plant at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. in 2016. A South Carolina Senate bill filed Thursday would tack on a $30-per-ton surcharge for dumping coal ash in a landfill in a county with fewer than 150,000 people. File/AP

Don't dump more coal ash in South Carolina, state legislators are telling the federal government, and are adding a cost for it.

A state Senate bill filed Thursday would tack on a $30-per-ton surcharge for dumping coal ash in a landfill in a county with fewer than 150,000 people, which in this case is meant to include tiny Bishopville in the Pee Dee.

The bill came in response to the federal Tennessee Valley Authority announcing a $300 million plan to move toxin-laden coal ash from a retired plant in Memphis to one of six landfills off-site.

The landfill list includes Bishopville in Lee County. The 3.5 million cubic yards to be dumped would be enough to fill 14 football fields as high as the goal posts.

The surcharge would cost the TVA about $140 million more. 

State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, the bill's main sponsor, said trying to ban the dumping outright would create legal problems.

“You start to worry about interstate commerce if you just say 'we’re banning all of this stuff from coming into our state,' " said McElveen, whose district includes Lee County.

"I think we’re creating an impossible situation by adding a per-ton surcharge on top of whatever the landfill charges," he said, adding that the fight against out-of-state dumping is "nothing new for South Carolina. We’ve fought these kind of battles for years."

The bill was advanced unanimously by a Senate subcommittee within a couple of hours of being filed. The subcommittee met immediately after the Senate adjourned for the day. The House put a similar proposal in its budget this week.

Dangerous levels of arsenic and other toxins were found in monitoring wells at the plant in 2017, igniting fears that the aquifer that supplies Memphis' drinking water could become tainted.

The TVA said it prefers taking the coal ash to an offsite landfill rather than moving it to a processing facility because construction and operation of the facility would delay economic development of the Memphis site and lead to issues with air and noise emissions, safety risks and public disruption, the TVA said in an environmental impact report.

The coal ash pit sits on top of a groundwater aquifer that Memphis draws water from.

Coal ash is the residue coal burned to power plants to generate electricity. It contains toxic metals like arsenic and lead lethal to humans as well as bodies of water in high enough concentrations.

The move was announced as Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Santee Cooper continue cleaning up coal ash pits in South Carolina, removals forced under legal and political pressure in the aftermath of spills, near-spills and cleanups.

Perhaps the most frightening event came in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in 2018 when floodwaters threatened to overtop a coal-ash impoundment at the Grainger power plant along the Waccamaw River — and elsewhere.

It's hard to tell how likely a move to Bishopville would be, said attorney Frank Holleman, who works on coal ash issues with the Southern Environmental Law Center in both North and South Carolina.

The city is the farthest of the six from the Memphis plant and would make for the costliest transport, even without the surcharge.

The other sites include Shelby County, Tenn.; Robinsonville, Miss.; Uniontown, Ala.; and Mauk, Ga.

"This is another case of South Carolina not putting adequate protections in place ahead of time," Holleman said. "It would be better to do that and not wait for a Jasper landfill to burn, a nuclear dump to leak in Barnwell, a coal ash dump in Bishopville or another environmental crisis to do something."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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