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.

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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.

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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

Latest News

Groups go to court to stop Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution of Roanoke River Basin More »

Today SELC filed a citizen suit enforcement action under the Clean Water Act against Duke Energy for its ongoing illegal coal ash pollution at its Roxboro plant. The plant sits on the shores of Hyco Lake in Person County, N.C. Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution from its unlined, leaking pits at Roxboro flows into Hyco Lake, Sargents River, and the Dan River–all of which are part of the Roanoke River Basin that flows through North Carolina and Virginia.

“Duke Energy continues to dump coal ash pollution from Roxboro into the Dan River and Roanoke River Basins–the same river systems where Duke Energy had its catastrophic Dan River coal ash spill,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution is contaminating our clean water and drinking water sources for communities in both North Carolina and Virginia. It’s time for Duke Energy to do the right thing and move its leaking coal ash to dry, lined storage where it will not pollute our water.”

SELC filed the enforcement action in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro on behalf of the Roanoke River Basin Association.

Last week, in a desperate attempt to try to preempt enforcement in North Carolina against its illegal coal ash water pollution, Duke Energy filed a baseless lawsuit in Virginia against the Roanoke River Basin Association. Duke Energy’s unprecedented legal maneuver attempts to avoid having North Carolina’s federal courts, which ruled against the utility in the past, address Duke Energy’s violations of the Clean Water Act. SELC and Roanoke River Basin Association plan to file a motion to dismiss this Virginia suit.

At the Roxboro plant, Duke Energy stores 19 million tons of coal ash in two unlined pits on the banks of Hyco Lake and Sargents River. One of the pits is in the floodplain. In both pits, coal ash sits in over 60 feet of groundwater. Both pits leak and dump coal as pollution directly into Sargents River, Hyco Lake, and several streams.

Hyco Lake is a popular public recreational lake, where people swim, boat, and fish. Duke Energy mistreated another North Carolina lake, Sutton Lake, the same way, but was forced to stop dumping untreated coal ash pollution into that lake after a successful Clean Water Act suit, also brought by SELC.

Duke Energy’s own consultants have concluded that it is not safe for people who fish in the lake to regularly eat fish from Hyco Lake. In past years, fish populations in Hyco Lake died out due to Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution.

SELC is also representing the Roanoke River Basin Association in the state Superior Court to seek cleanup of Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution at Roxboro.

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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.