Coal Ash

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more unlined, leaking pits on its banks filled with water and holding coal ash from power plants.

Hide

Photo © Hollis Bennett

SELC’s six-year legal effort to protect rivers, streams, groundwater, and drinking water sources from coal ash rose to national prominence following the devastating spill on the Dan River.

Hide

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.

Hide

Photo © Jerry Greer

Latest News

Citizens go to federal court over Duke Energy coal ash pollution in Dan River Basin More »

Today SELC filed in federal court to stop Duke Energy’s violations of the Clean Water Act at its Belews Creek facility in Stokes County, north of Winston-Salem. Duke Energy’s Clean Water Act violations at the site include dumping its coal ash pollution into the Dan River, Belews Lake, Little Belews Creek and groundwater through its malfunctioning wastewater treatment system, and illegally using the creek as part of its wastewater dump. The suit was filed on behalf of Appalachian Voices, the Stokes County Branch of the NAACP, and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.

“Duke Energy’s long history of polluting the water in this community with its coal ash at Belews Creek must stop,” said Attorney Myra Blake. “Duke Energy is continuing to pollute the groundwater and creek connected to Belews Lake and the Dan River—and plans to do so into the future—despite the harm it has already caused and the concerns voiced repeatedly by the community near its leaking, unlined coal ash pit at Belews Creek. It’s way past time for Duke Energy to stop polluting this community’s groundwater and waterways.”

Duke Energy’s illegal coal ash pollution has contaminated groundwater, Belews Lake, Little Belews Creek, and the Dan River with elevated levels of many pollutants, including: arsenic; barium; boron; bromide (linked to carcinogens in downstream treated drinking water for Eden, N.C. and Madison, N.C.); chloride; chromium (including hexavalent chromium); mercury; molybdenum; radionuclides; selenium; sulfate; strontium; thallium; and vanadium.

Despite its long history of leaks and pollution resulting in fish kills and carcinogens in downstream drinking water, Duke Energy has proposed to cover up its unlined, leaking coal ash pit at Belews Creek, allowing continued pollution of groundwater and the nearby waterways.

{image1}

“Duke Energy has dumped its coal ash pollution into our community’s waters for decades, and now it wants to leave the coal ash sitting in our waters for eternity,” said Reverend Gregory Hairston, Stokes County NAACP President. “We deserve better than that.”

Duke Energy’s Belews Creek coal ash site sits in the middle of a predominantly African American community, near Walnut Tree, N.C. In response to testimony at a hearing near Belews Creek, the Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded “the minimum standard for all coal ash storage is in lined, watertight landfills away from drinking water sources.”

“This is a quintessential example of environmental injustice,” said Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, North Carolina NAACP President. “In a county that’s predominantly white, Duke Energy’s polluting coal ash pit sits in the middle of a mostly black community of limited means.”

Duke Energy has admitted that groundwater contaminated with coal ash pollution at Belews Creek flows beyond Duke Energy’s property boundary. In 2015, residents who rely on more than a dozen drinking water wells near the Belews Creek coal ash pit were told by the state not to use their water for drinking or cooking due to elevated levels of arsenic and other pollutants.

Through court orders and agreements with citizens groups and regulators, Duke Energy is required to excavate its ash and move it to dry, lined storage at ten of its sixteen sites in the two Carolinas. However, Duke Energy refuses to commit to cleaning up its Belews Creek coal ash site and five other coal ash sites in North Carolina, which are the subject of ongoing litigation in state court in which Appalachian Voices is a party represented by SELC; several of these sites are also the subject of ongoing federal suits against Duke Energy for violations of the Clean Water Act and the EPA’s federal coal ash rule. In 2015, Duke Energy companies pleaded guilty 18 times to nine coal ash Clean Water Act crimes committed across North Carolina and remain under criminal probation.

View All Updates »

Protecting Our Water and Health from Coal Ash

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more unlined, leaking pits on its banks filled with water and holding coal ash from power plants. Containing millions of tons of toxin-laden waste, these pits are unlined and have leaked arsenic, mercury, thallium, selenium, and other contaminants into the rivers and the underlying groundwater for decades. 

Putting a Stop to Years of Pollution

SELC is in federal and state courts to force utilities to clean up their unlined, leaking coal ash waste sites and protect our clean water 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 on behalf of local citizen groups. 

In North Carolina, our lawsuits have produced cleanup commitments at eight Duke Energy sites, and SELC continues to represent a number of citizen groups to require the clean up or recycling of coal ash at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined coal ash sites across 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 clean up all of their leaking, unlined coal ash pits 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 three different Dominion Virginia Power sites: the Bremo site on the James River, the Possum Point Power Plant along the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Energy Center along the Elizabeth River. SELC is working to make sure Dominion is held responsible for cleaning up its dangerous coal ash storage sites on these waterways. 

In Tennessee, we filed a lawsuit 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.  

Advocating Tougher Standards

Despite the dangers revealed by the catastrophic Kingston spill in 2008 and the 2014 Dan River spill in NC, only in 2015 did the EPA put its coal ash rule into effect. This rule establishes only minimum  protections, so we will continue to enforce stronger U.S. 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 communities 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 ash impoundments.