Osceola County, Fla. requests end to coal ash disposal at JED landfill

Published on June 26, 2019 by Daily Energy Insider Reports

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Credit: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Osceola County commissioners in Florida are urging a waste collector to stop accepting coal ash from Puerto Rico immediately at the collector’s landfill in St. Cloud, despite it having disposed of the material in compliance with state and federal environmental regulations.

Power company AES has contracted with Waste Connections of Osceola County to accept coal ash at its JED Solid Waste Management Facility in St. Cloud through October 1. The coal ash comes from AES’ 454 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico, which is supplying the lowest-cost electricity on the island.

Coal ash is a waste by-product of coal-fired generation and is considered a non-toxic material, containing trace amounts of metals similar to the levels of metals found in common soil.

The county has said that the Puerto Rico coal ash at the JED landfill has levels of metals that are well below the regulatory limits prescribed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The JED facility is regulated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is mandated to take action if any materials disposed of at the landfill are ever deemed unsafe, according to the Osceola Board of County Commissioners.

“The Puerto Rico coal ash has been thoroughly tested at certified laboratories to confirm it is below relevant regulatory thresholds used to determine acceptability prior to disposal at the JED facility. All results for the material are well within the EPA established limits,” according to information provided by the county commissioners on its website.

The project provides safe management of materials from the Puerto Rico power station while providing jobs and revenue for the county, Waste Connections noted in a fact sheet. However, local residents have lobbied the Board of County Commissioners to press Waste Connections to stop accepting the coal ash because of concerns over environmental damage and human illness.

“The Board of County Commissioners, after due deliberation, did not consider the October 1, 2019 cessation date to be acceptable and is reiterating its request that Waste Connections of Osceola immediately cease accepting coal ash at the JED Landfill in Osceola County and redirect the coal ash to another appropriately permitted facility,” the board said in a June 4 letter to Waste Connections.

As the county awaits for Waste Connections to respond, it is in the process of finalizing a contract to conduct groundwater testing at the landfill. The type of testing and the timetable will be included in the contract, Osceola County spokeswoman Lisa G. Nason told Daily Energy Insider. Nason added that the county has also just hired a lawyer from the law firm Manson Bloves Donaldson Yarn to work with its team designated to review the situation.

AES Puerto Rico’s coal-fired plant supplies approximately 17 percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity, according to Osceola County.

But because of logistical challenges that limit the amount of coal ash that landfills in Puerto Rico can accept, AES has relied on multiple disposal options, including disposing of coal ash in Osceola County. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosello also signed a law in 2017 banning coal ash disposal on the island except for instances where it could be recycled into construction materials and wallboard.

Waste Connections began receiving coal ash at the JED landfill following the approval by the board on April 1 to do so. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has labeled the JED landfill as a Class I facility that has a specific permit to accept coal ash, among other kinds of industrial waste. The facility has liners and collection systems that seek to prevent any waste from seeping into the groundwater.

But word of the board’s approval to allow coal ash energized members of the local community to lobby against the deal.

As a result, the Board of County Commissioners asked Waste Connections in a May 14 letter to cease accepting the Puerto Rico coal ash, but Waste Connections responded on May 22 that it had a contract to receive the coal ash through October 1. The Board’s June letter reiterated the request to cease accepting the coal ash following a June 3 meeting in which more public testimony was heard against the disposal of coal ash.

The JED landfill has received 44,000 tons of Puerto Rico coal ash so far and could receive up to 200,000 total tons by the end of 2019, according to the county. Coal ash represents about 10 percent of the facility’s total waste volume.

Throughout Florida, there are 41 Class I landfills that accept coal ash, according to the county. Florida also has 12 active coal ash monofill sites located next to power plants.