Photo of coal ash spill in North Carolina in 2014 (Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance/Rick Dove)
AES Puerto Rico, the owner and operator of the controversial coal-fired plant in the town of Guayama, has been dumping the toxic ash produced by the plant in Chesser Island Landfill in Charlton County, in southern Georgia. The landfill, close to the border of Florida, receives the loads from Keystone Terminal, Jacksonville, Florida, where AES has been sending its Puerto Rico coal ash since at least March 2018, as reported by La Perla del Sur.
The connection between AES Puerto Rico’s coal ash and Chesser Island Landfill was made explicit recently, when the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) released the landfill’s 2019 Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) Annual Report, a report that landfills in Georgia must file if they accept coal ash.
The key to recognizing that AES Puerto Rico’s coal ash is being disposed in south Georgia comes from a particular name: Agremax. Annexed to the CCR report are the findings of laboratory tests done to the ash to be dumped in the landfill. The samples are identified by the name Agremax, which is the brand name given to AES Puerto Rico’s coal ash waste, which it is trying to sell for commercial purposes, like construction.
The report says that “…the material source and general physical characteristics have remained consistent since the CCR Management permit’s initial issue date and the customer has not notified the facility of any significant process changes. Therefore, additional testing to verify characterization and compatibility have not been required.” The permit and the laboratory tests are dated May 2017. It appears, then, that AES has had the authorization to send its Puerto Rico coal ash to Chesser Island Landfill (through Keystone Terminal) since 2017.
The report also identifies Keystone Terminal as one of Chesser Island’s coal ash sources. Keystone Terminal is a private port in Jacksonville that began operations in 2011. It handles, among other things, coal ash. It provides vessels, trucks, trains, and storage facilities for companies. The terminal has been serving as an intermediary between AES and Chesser Island. As recently as June 14, AES sent to Keystone Terminal around 32,000 tons of coal ash through the Mississippi Enterprise, reported Omar Alfonso from La Perla del Sur.
Keystone Terminal’s relationship with AES goes back several years. In April 2015, Keystone requested authorization from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to construct a four acre storage pad facility using Agremax. However, from the publicly available documents, it is not clear if the FDEP gave the permit and if Keystone constructed the facility.
Chesser Island also has a corporate connection to AES. Andrés Gluski, president and CEO of AES since 2011, is also on the board of directors of Waste Management, the publicly traded company that owns the landfill.
The landfill has raised environmental concerns in the past. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the Georgia EPD investigated a significant increase in vanadium that was detected in the groundwater near the landfill in 2016. The landfill received coal ash from Plant McManus, a closed coal-fired plant that had stored around 550,000 tons of ash. The landfill’s proximity to the Okefenokee Swamp must be a concern for everyone in the area.
AES first signed a power purchase agreement with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) in 1994. It then constructed a coal-fired plant in Guayama, which started operating in 2002. Since then, the struggle against AES and its ash dumping has been active in the south of the island. Cases of cancer have been denounced.
The Guayama coal-fired plant produces 17% of Puerto Rico’s electricity.
AES started exporting its ashes from Puerto Rico after huge protests erupted in Peñuelas, a town in the southwest where community and environmental groups organized civil disobedience actions to stop the dumping of ashes in a nearby landfill. Over 100 arrests and public outcry put pressure on the company and governor Ricardo Rosselló’s administration to look for other alternatives.
In a public hearing in October 2018, Manuel Mata, AES Puerto Rico’s president, said that the exporting of coal ash is not economically viable for the company in the long run.
Last May, the Puerto Rico Senate approved a bill prohibiting the use and storage of Agremax. It is still pending for approval in the House of Representatives.
AES Puerto Rico’s ashes broke news in Florida recently when journalist Rachel Christian reported for the Osceola News-Gazette that Osceola County’s commissioners authorized a contract to allow AES to dispose of hundreds of million of pounds of coal ash in the JED Solid Waste Facility, a landfill south-west of the City of St. Cloud. Public outcry forced government and company officials to organize a press conference to discuss the details of the agreement. They admitted that the deal initially was not discussed publicly because the companies wanted to keep it quiet. They also acknowledged that there is no ceiling to the amount of coal ash the landfill will receive, at least before October 1.
Last February, LittleSis published an article revealing that the State University of New York (SUNY) chancellor, Kristina Johnson, was on the board of directors of AES. From her SUNY position she was collecting plaudits for her creation of the SUNY Puerto Rico Task Force, an effort to “channel the significant expertise, service and generosity of the broad SUNY community to meet the needs of a Puerto Rican community.” After the coverage by the Albany Times Union and a statement from the United University Professions (the union that represents SUNY faculty and staff) questioning her role in AES, Johnson resigned from the board of directors of AES.