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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Under pressure for coal ash handling, Asheville coal plant to close More »

On the heels of a guilty criminal plea for its handling of coal ash, Duke Energy announced today plans to retire by early 2020 its coal-fired power plant in Asheville, where coal ash excavation is underway, and build a solar farm on the site. Although the Asheville plant is equipped with scrubbers to remove some air pollutants, the plant has been entangled in litigation with SELC and our partners for years over water pollution from its primitive coal ash storage. Duke Energy committed last year to remove the coal ash to dry, lined storage. 

The decision to close the outdated coal plant altogether is welcome news, especially with the added solar power as well as new transmission capacity to connect the Asheville region to the rest of the state. This is a significant development as the Asheville plant is one of the first coal plants nationwide with modern air pollution control technologies to be shuttered because of its water pollution and climate impacts, and because alternative energy resources are becoming more cost competitive.  

But Duke Energy’s plan also relies on construction of a new natural gas plant on site, which is a missed opportunity for a greater investment in energy efficiency and renewables. As Senior Attorney DJ Gerken responded, "Closing this polluting coal plant is a good first step, but Duke Energy told the public last week that it is a different company and now it’s time to prove it, by helping North Carolina move beyond its dependence on fossil fuels and become a leading producer of reliable, renewable energy."  

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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.