COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina Electric & Gas has settled a lawsuit accusing the utility of illegally discharging arsenic and other contaminants into a river near Columbia.
The settlement announced on Monday includes an agreement to remove all of the coal ash now being stored at the Wateree Station near Eastover, according to attorneys for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.
SCE&G, a unit of SCANA Corp., operates a 700-megawatt, coal-fired power plant near Eastover, about 25 miles southeast of Columbia, and stores a coal ash byproduct in earthen lagoons near the Wateree River. The environmental group sued SCE&G earlier this year, saying that the company stores wet coal ash in earthen lagoons near its Eastover plant and that monitoring wells near the lagoons show five times the legal limit of arsenic.
The lawsuit also says the ponds sometimes leak, sending "streams of arsenic-contaminated water out of the riverbank and into the Wateree River."
According to federal filings, SCE&G reported that in 2009 it disposed of more than 2.7 million pounds of toxic substances at the Wateree plant, including 3,100 pounds of compounds containing arsenic. In the lawsuit, the foundation says SCE&G "continues to operate Wateree Station without a permit for its ongoing discharges of arsenic and other contaminants from the coal ash impoundments into waters and groundwaters of the State."
The foundation also says SCE&G signed an agreement with state environmental regulators in 2001 that acknowledged the pollution going into the Wateree River but didn't require that it stop. Last year, in a private agreement signed with the state, SCE&G said it would remove 240,000 tons of coal ash from the ponds in the first three years, with complete removal in about a decade.
Two years ago, SCE&G opened a dry storage facility on site. SCE&G has denied any illegal discharge of pollutants. The company said in a statement that the settlement is in all parties' best interest.
"This settlement is a great example of how industry, stakeholders and government agencies can work together to produce a proactive plan that is in the best interest of all," said Jim Landreth, a vice president with SCE&G.
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