Illinois Residents Say No More Coal Ash in Old Quarry

Chicago-area residents worry a former stone quarry, lower right, will become a destination for coal ash now stored near four NRG power plants. (Photo: Google Earth)Chicago-area residents worry a former stone quarry, lower right, will become a destination for coal ash now stored near four NRG power plants. (Photo: Google Earth)

For months now, the Illinois Pollution Control Board has been considering the fate of coal ash stored near four power plants owned by the company NRG. In February, the board completed its second extended public hearing on the issue, with environmental advocates arguing the coal ash should be moved, and the company saying that the ash does not present a risk.

Meanwhile, residents of Chicago’s southwestern suburbs are worried about a defunct quarry containing more than 2.5 million cubic yards of coal ash. It is not part of the hearings, but some fear it could become a destination for coal ash removed from impoundments involved in the hearings. 

In June, NRG asked state regulators for a permit modification allowing it to take coal ash from other sites to the unlined Lincoln Stone Quarry, which sits near NRG’s Joliet power plant about 40 miles from Chicago. Under its existing permit, NRG is allowed to deposit coal ash moved from other Joliet impoundments into the quarry, and closure plans indicate it expects to do so. 

Environmental groups and the Will County Land Use department filed comments opposing NRG’s request to move more ash into the former limestone quarry, and in December the company withdrew its request. 

But advocates, including with the grassroots group CARE (Citizens Against Ruining the Environment), say they are not reassured by the withdrawal. They still fear groundwater contamination and other environmental damage from ash currently stored in the quarry and ash NRG might deposit in the future. The permit covering the quarry allows another 2 million cubic yards to be added. 

NRG spokesman David Gaier said, “We operate the quarry under strict permit limits and under the regulatory regime of the Illinois EPA. The Joliet plant, which has been converted to natural gas operation, is no longer…

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