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

Hyco Lake, North Carolina is a popular recreation area struggling with pollution from Duke Energy’s coal ash stored in leaking unlined pits along the shore. (© LearnNC)

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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