By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – A bill aiming to ensure safe closure of toxic coal ash pits and financial protections for taxpayers should the pits cause environmental disaster is on its way to the governor.
Senate Bill 9 passed the Illinois House on Monday, 18 days after passing the Senate.
“This bill will set the parameters of how coal ash will be handled in the state of Illinois,” Democratic Rep. Carol Ammons of Urbana said.
Coal ash is the byproduct left behind when coal is burned to produce power, and it contains harmful heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic which can seep into groundwater. In many cases, coal ash is placed in unlined pits, where it remains long after the power plants are closed.
There are approximately 25 known coal ash impoundments which are already closed in the state. Senate Bill 9 would establish processes to address the other 50-plus impoundment sites which have yet to close.
The bill would require a coal ash impoundment owner to submit to the EPA a “closure alternatives analysis” addressing several closure scenarios and options laid out in the legislation. It would give the EPA the authority to choose the safest plan for coal ash remediation.
Senate Bill 9 would also create initial fees of $50,000 for each closed coal ash plant and $75,000 for those that have not yet been closed. Owners of operational impoundments would then pay an annual fee of $25,000, and a $15,000 fee would be charged for closed plants that had not yet completed “post-closure care.”
Coal ash impoundment owners would also be required to provide bonds ensuring closure and remediation of coal ash pits. Per the bill, the only acceptable form of bond would include “a trust fund, a surety bond guaranteeing payment, a surety bond guaranteeing performance, or an irrevocable letter of credit.”
Some Republicans voted against the bill because it would not allow insurance in place of the bonding measures allowed in the bill.
Rep. Mark Batinick, a Plainfield Republican, warned that financial provisions in the bill might cause companies to go bankrupt and be unable to pay for safe coal ash removal.
“These are difficult situations where we’re trying to make decisions to protect the citizens from bad groundwater, but this issue is we’re trying to force these companies to pay for the cleanup, but if we force it in too much of an onerous way, they may just go belly up, go bankrupt and leave the state and we’ll be on the hook,” he said.
Ammons said concerns about insurance companies not fulfilling their obligation led to that language not becoming part of the bill.
She also said an amendment that would have removed opposition from business and union groups did not become part of the final package but could be part of follow-up legislation to “address some of the remaining issues that were not addressed in this bill.”
The bill passed 77-35 on a bipartisan roll call with one voting present.