A small but vocal group of local residents came out Tuesday to offer their input to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on new coal ash regulations.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law in July creating new regulations on coal ash retention ponds at power plants. Coal ash is a toxic byproduct of coal-burning power plants.
The ash can seep out and contaminate groundwater in the surrounding area, especially if the retention pond isn't lined. The new law requires power companies to pay for groundwater cleanup.
Mary Hayes lives on Peoria’s South Side, not far from the E.D Edwards coal plant.
“This is very important to me, because my friends and neighbors are sick. They are desperately sick. And my friends are dying," she said.
The IEPA considers Peoria an "area of environmental justice concern" due to its proximity to coal-burning power plants. The Edwards plant was cited last year after groundwater tested near the plant at more than 18 times the U.S. EPA's drinking water standards for contamination.
But Joyce Blumenshine with the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club says the IEPA needs to narrow their definition.
“If you look at Peoria and all of our sprawl to the north, we wouldn’t be an EJ community. But if you look at certain neighborhoods or certain ZIP codes, those are huge EJ communities," she said.
She said the IEPA’s primary enforcement focus should be on helping low-income neighborhoods near the Edwards and Powerton coal plants.
Five more listening sessions are scheduled throughout the state in Granite City, Danville, Mount Vernon, Joliet, and Waukegan before rules are drafted.