Duke Energy confirms groundwater pollution at coal ash sites

This 2015 photo shows how coal ash was stored in unlined pits at Duke Energy’s Asheville plant prior to excavation. (© Asheville Citizen-Times)

Every Duke Energy coal ash site in the Carolinas is polluting groundwater, according to Duke Energy’s own filings. The only sites that are not polluting groundwater and violating federal law are those where Duke Energy has excavated all the coal ash.

Additionally, Duke Energy is damaging wetlands, and storing coal ash in unstable areas at unlined, leaking sites in North and South Carolina.

This information came to light through recent filings required by the federal Coal Combustion Rule.

To date, Duke Energy has refused to excavate its coal ash from six sites in North Carolina:

  • Allen on Lake Wylie,
  • Marshall on Lake Norman,
  • Cliffside (Rogers) on the Broad River, and
  • Mayo, Roxboro, and Belews Creek in the Dan River and Roanoke River Basins. 

At every one of those sites, Duke Energy coal ash lagoons are polluting groundwater aquifers and, at Belews Creek, Marshall, Cliffside, and Roxboro, Duke Energy admits that it is harming wetlands also.

Notably, the only coal ash lagoons not polluting groundwater, harming wetlands, or storing ash in unstable locations are one lagoon at Asheville and one at Cliffside from which all the coal ash already has been removed.

In these filings, Duke Energy’s own engineers confirm that Duke Energy is storing coal ash in dangerous, leaking, and polluting pits,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman  “These admissions and Hurricane Florence make clear beyond any doubt that Duke Energy must move all its coal ash out of these unlined, leaking waterfront pits as soon as reasonably possible. Leaving the ash in these unlined pits and putting a cap on top will not stop pollution of groundwater or wetlands. The only safe, legal coal ash pits are the ones from which the coal ash has been removed.”

During Hurricane Florence, Duke Energy’s coal ash lagoon at its Sutton Plant in Wilmington was inundated by flood waters and spilled coal ash into the Cape Fear River. These filings set out that Duke Energy’s Sutton coal ash lagoons are unstable, subject to seismic failure, damaging wetlands, and polluting the region’s aquifer. Duke Energy’s old coal ash sites at its Lee plant near Goldsboro also were inundated during Hurricane Florence and released coal ash into the flood waters of the Neuse River. Duke Energy’s filings confirm that its active Lee coal ash lagoon is damaging wetlands and polluting groundwater.

In total, Duke Energy’s filings demonstrate that Duke Energy operates 24 coal ash lagoons in the Carolinas that are polluting aquifers, that 13 Duke Energy coal ash lagoons are damaging wetlands, and that three are unstable and also fail seismic safety tests.

Under a criminal plea agreement, court orders, settlement agreements with conservation groups, regulatory requirements, and legislation, Duke Energy is now required to remove all of the coal ash from all its unlined pits in South Carolina and from eight of its 14 unlined, leaking sites in North Carolina.  However, because Duke Energy has not completed ash removal from almost all its lagoons, it continues to violate the law at every site where it stores coal ash in the Carolinas. At six locations in North Carolina, Duke Energy continues to try to leave its coal ash in unlined, leaking pits forever.      

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