Coal Ash

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


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.


Photo © Jerry Greer

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Breaking: Bill backtracking on state Coal Ash Management Act racing through N.C. Legislature More »

The following is a statement by Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney, regarding the Duke Energy coal ash bailout bill, S71, pending in the North Carolina General Assembly tonight.

“This bill is the latest attempt by Raleigh politicians to bail out Duke Energy. Citizens and communities across North Carolina followed the rules set out in the Coal Ash Management Act over a year and half ago. Under the existing law, after extensive public comments, DEQ was forced to conclude that Duke Energy must remove its coal ash from its dangerous and leaking pits across the state. Now, after heavy lobbying by Duke Energy, the Raleigh politicians want to re-open the process to try to find a way to let Duke Energy off the hook. The law, common sense, and common decency require Duke Energy to take responsibility for its irresponsible coal ash practices and move its coal ash to safe, dry lined storage as is happening in South Carolina today. In fact, up until they got a result they did not like, Duke Energy and the state’s politicians praised CAMA.

“Every community and every family living around one of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash pits deserves a safe and reliable source of clean drinking water at Duke Energy’s expense.  It is Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution that has contaminated or threatened the state’s drinking water supplies. Duke Energy owes it to these families to step up and provide them clean water for their homes. This bill makes that process overcomplicated and only sets out what Duke Energy this week has said it intends to do anyway.

“However, providing drinking water to nearby communities does not give Duke Energy amnesty for its illegal and dangerous coal ash pollution. Duke Energy is still polluting groundwater, drinking water supplies, rivers, and lakes. The very fact that Duke Energy must provide water lines underscores that Duke Energy’s coal ash practices have rendered the groundwater unreliable as a source of drinking water. Our clean water is not only a resource for current users, it is a resource for future generations that everyone—including Duke Energy—must protect for the future, not just the present day.

“As long as there are unlined coal ash pits in these communities, these families’ property values will suffer. If Duke Energy leaves its coal ash in unlined pits near these people’s homes, it will continue to hurt these families and drive down the value of one of their most important assets.

“This bill shows again that Duke Energy and politicians in North Carolina believe that Duke Energy does not have to comply with the law like everyone else in the state. Either Duke Energy breaks the law, the state government does not enforce the law against Duke Energy, or, when it’s inconvenient for Duke Energy to obey the law, the state’s politicians try to change it for Duke Energy’s benefit. Sooner or later, Duke Energy must obey the law and stop polluting North Carolina’s clean water with coal ash. And, sooner or later, North Carolina’s politicians have to put the public interest above Duke Energy’s special interest.”

SELC represents the following citizens groups in court to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution from all 14 leaking Duke Energy sites across North Carolina: Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverwatch, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Dan River Basin Association, MountainTrue, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Roanoke River Basin Association, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Yadkin Riverkeeper.

Read the latest on the legislative action around coal ash from the Winston-Salem Journal: N.C. Senate pauses coal ash bill as permanent-water provision needs more work

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Protecting Our Water and 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 seven Duke Energy sites, and SELC continues to represent a number of groups 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, 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 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 October 2015 will the EPA put into place long-awaited federal coal ash protections. 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, a website that provides an interactive map and database of 100 coal ash impoundments.