SELC acts to strengthen N.C. coal ash standards

How much coal ash are you ok with having in your water? (© Hollis Bennett)

As permit changes that could set a standard for North Carolina’s treatment of coal ash-laden wastewater move through approvals, SELC is weighing in to ensure strong measures to protect people’s health and the environment. At the same time, Duke Energy and DEQ propose to address illegal leaks at the utility’s Allen, Marshall, and Cliffside plants through a Special Order by Consent. SELC submitted comments on the proposed order for these plants, as well as for Duke’s Belews Creek, Roxboro and Mayo sites, which could all follow a similar path.

The permit modification, issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, proposes to delay new federal pollution limits for water discharged from coal ash lagoons. It would apply to Duke Energy’s Marshall plant, which is on the banks of Lake Norman, upstream from Charlotte. This update could be replicated at several other Duke plants in North Carolina with similar permits, so many expect the standards adopted at Marshall could be applied across the state.

“DEQ has said it wants to protect North Carolina from Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution, and this permit and order are where they can start,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “Duke Energy should be required to protect our clean water from arsenic, mercury, and carcinogen-causing bromides. And Duke Energy should not be given amnesty for its engineered, illegal pollution of North Carolina’s waters. DEQ must put in place meaningful pollution limits to protect clean water from the last flush of coal ash-polluted water from Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined lagoons.”

SELC outlined concerns with the draft version of the permit and draft Special Order by Consent in written comments submitted this week to DEQ. The comments were submitted on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, MountainTrue, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Appalachian Voices, the Roanoke River Basin Association, and the Stokes County NAACP.

The groups’ comments expressed strong concerns with DEQ’s proposal to delay Duke Energy’s implementation of limits on some of the most toxic pollutants — including arsenic, mercury, selenium, and nitrates — from Marshall. Duke Energy admitted in a previous version of the Marshall permit that it could remove these toxic pollutants from its discharge two years earlier than what is proposed in the modified permit. Now, without any relevant change in the law whatsoever, DEQ would allow delays because the current administration of the Environmental Protection Agency indicated that it may weaken the federal law dictating these permits, know as the Effluent Limitations Guidelines, or ELG Rule. North Carolinians shouldn’t have to wait two more years for less polluted water.