MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — A coastal environmental group filed suit Monday trying to block a decision by Alabama Power Co. to leave millions of tons of coal ash along a riverside in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, where opponents say a spill could devastate a huge ecosystem.
The federal lawsuit by Mobile Baykeeper was filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which announced plans to sue the electrical utility in July.
The group wants to force Alabama Power to give up what it contends is an illegal plan to permanently leave more than 21 million tons (19 metric tonnes) of coal ash in an unlined pit at Plant Barry, located north of Mobile along the Mobile River.
Environmentalists argue the ash pond is polluting groundwater and could destroy a verdant, biologically diverse region should it be breached by heavy flooding, a hurricane or some other disaster.
“Plant Barry is the only coal ash lagoon of a major utility left in a low-lying coastal area of the Southeast that is not already cleaned up or on track to be recycled or removed to safe storage, away from waterways,” Barry Brock, director of the law center’s Alabama office, said in a statement.
Alabama Power did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit, filed in Mobile. It previously declined comment on the group’s plan to sue.
Plant Barry opened in 1965 about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Mobile. With federal regulators imposing tougher rules on storing coal ash, Alabama Power has been working for several years to close the roughly 600-acre (243-hectare) pond by drying it out, moving material to a smaller site nearby and covering it with a liner.
The company contends moving the material farther away from the plant site would pose a hazard in itself.