Coal Risk Update, July 2013

Dump Now, Pay Later: Coal Ash Disposal Risks Facing U.S. Electric Power Producers

The U.S. coal-fired power plant fleet produces over 130 million tons of coal ash each year, much of which is buried in landfills or stored as wet slurry in more than a thousand containment ponds around the country. Many of these ponds and landfills were built without synthetic bottom linings and therefore leach toxic coal ash contaminants into groundwater. And since 2002, multiple coal ash ponds have ruptured without warning, resulting in disastrous ash spills. RAN’s Coal Risk Update for July 2013 assesses the legal, regulatory, and financial risks facing electric power producers that own coal ash ponds and landfills

Forthcoming EPA coal ash regulations will likely require power producers to close hundreds of coal ash ponds that lack a bottom lining. These closure costs will range from under $1 million to potentially over $100 million per pond and may, in combination with other new coal ash regulations, accelerate the closure of smaller coal-fired generating units. Contamination from ponds and landfills has also prompted several environmental groups and more recently, a major plaintiff firm to file lawsuits on behalf of residents near contamination sites.

This report assesses EPA coal ash pond data and finds that the following electric power producers are most exposed to ash pond failure risk and groundwater contamination risk based on their ownership of high-risk ponds:

U.S. electric power producers with the most coal ash ponds with significant or high hazard ratings U.S. electric power producers with the most coal ash ponds that lack bottom linings
1. Duke Energy (24) 1. Duke Energy (45)
2. Tennessee Valley Authority (19) 2. Southern Company (45)
3. American Electric Power (18) 3. American Electric Power (36)
4. PPL Corporation (12) 4. Tennessee Valley Authority (28)
5. Southern Company (10) 5. AES Corporation (22)

Unlined coal ash ponds and landfills can leach contamination into groundwater for decades, leaving investors in publicly traded electric power producers exposed to major litigation and regulatory compliance risks. However, the report finds that electric power producers have disclosed very little information about their coal ash ponds and landfills or their plans for managing hazard and contamination risks at these disposal sites.