Coal Ash

SELC’s three-year legal effort to protect local drinking water from coal ash rose to national prominence following the devastating spill on the Dan River.

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Photo © Waterkeeper Alliance

2008 Coal Waste Spill in Tennessee: The catastrophic waste spill at the TVA plant in Tennessee underscored the urgent need for regulation of coal waste.

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Photo © Jerry Greer

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VA coal ash settlement with Duke Energy amounts to a slap on the wrist More »

Despite vocal community opposition, including from the City of Danville, today the Virginia Water Control Board rubber-stamped a slap-on-the-wrist settlement with Duke Energy related to its 2014 Dan River coal ash spill.

The spill, the third-largest in the nation’s history, released 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash and coated approximately 80 miles of the river, including the popular recreation areas like Kerr Reservoir and sections of the Dan designated a Virginia Scenic River.

The $2.5 million settlement accepted today is less than 1 percent of the estimated $295 million in damages caused by the spill, according to a Wake Forest University study. More than 90 percent of the coal ash remains in the river.

Today’s decision shows that we still have a long way to go in Virginia to begin to grapple with the problem of how power companies are managing millions of tons of toxic coal ash stored alongside our rivers. At numerous other coal ash sites throughout Virginia, utilities are still relying on the unsafe practice of storing coal ash in leaking pits close to important waterways.

Read the Associated Press story by Steve Szkotak "Virginia OKs $2.5M coal ash spill settlement with Duke" in the Washington Post.

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Regulation of Coal Combustion Waste

Protecting Our Water and Our Health from Coal Ash

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more lagoons on its banks holding slurries of coal ash from power plants. Containing hundreds of thousands of tons of toxin-laden waste, these pools are often unlined and have leaked arsenic, mercury, thallium, selenium, and other contaminants into the rivers and the underlying groundwater for years, if not decades. 

Putting a Stop to Years of Pollution

SELC is using its law and policy skills to force our region’s utilities to clean up their waste sites and store coal ash in ways that protect water quality and people's health. When state and federal governments did not act following a devastating 2008 spill in Kingston, TN, we began enforcing the law ourselves. 

In North Carolina, our lawsuits have produced cleanup commitments at four Duke Energy sites, and SELC is representing a number of groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits to require clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites throughout the state.

In South Carolina, a combination of legal action and public pressure from SELC prompted all three of the state’s major utilities to begin a significant cleanup to clean up leaking coal ash lagoons on South Carolina’s rivers - a historic accomplishment for clean water in South Carolina.

In Virginia, we uncovered decades of coal ash pollution leaking from two different Dominion Virginia Power sites: the Possum Point Power Plant along the Potomac River 30 miles south of Washington D.C., and the Chesapeake Energy Center along the Elizabeth River. SELC is working to make sure Dominion is held responsible for cleaning up these waterways. 

In Tennessee, we filed a notice of intent against Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for coal ash at the Gallatin Plant polluting the Cumberland River, which provides drinking water for 1.2 million residents downstream in Gallatin, Nashville, Rutherford County, and Williamson County. Furthermore, TVA is still cleaning up in Kingston, TN after the biggest coal ash spill in the country occurred six years ago.  

Advocating Tougher Standards

Despite the dangers revealed by the catastrophic Kingston spill in 2008 and the 2014 Dan River spill in NC, the EPA released long-awaited federal coal ash protections in late 2014 that fail to adequately protect communities and waterways. This rule establishes only a bare minimum of protection, so we will continue to enforce stronger federal and state clean water and anti-pollution laws to protect rivers and communities from the dangers of coal ash.

Is There a Coal Ash Waste Site Near You?

To help Southerners find out more about risks to their communities, SELC and its partners launched SoutheastCoalAsh.org, a website that provides an interactive map and database of 100 coal-fired power plants and their coal ash impoundments.