N.C. settlement results in largest coal ash cleanup in America

This settlement means North Carolina’s communities will be safer and its water, including the beloved Catawba River Basin, will be cleaner than they have been in decades.

In a historic settlement SELC reached with Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality today, approximately 80 million tons of toxic coal ash are now slated for excavation at six Duke Energy coal ash sites.

“This agreement is the culmination of nine years of work by communities across North Carolina and puts in place the most extensive coal ash cleanup in the nation,” says Frank Holleman, senior attorney at SELC, which represents the community groups in court seeking coal ash cleanups in North Carolina. “With the agreements and court orders governing eight other coal ash sites, we now have in place a historic cleanup of coal ash lagoons to protect North Carolina’s clean water and families from coal ash pollution.”

Prior settlements and court orders required cleanups and excavation of 46 million tons of the toxic coal ash at eight other Duke Energy sites in North Carolina, and now the utility’s sites at its Allen, Belews Creek, Cliffside, Marshall, Mayo, and Roxboro facilities will be added to that list. A timeline highlighting key moments in North Carolina's coal ash history is available here.

This agreement is the culmination of nine years of work by communities across North Carolina, and puts in place the most extensive coal ash cleanup in the nation.”

—Senior Attorney Frank Holleman

It was April 2019 when the state’s DEQ ordered Duke Energy to clean up the final six coal ash storage sites, prompting the utility to appeal the order and SELC to intervene.

Today’s historic settlement culminates efforts that began in 2012 when SELC first went to court to seek cleanup of coal ash pollution on behalf of community groups in South Carolina, and thereafter brought administrative and legal actions that sought cleanups in North Carolina. Now, every utility in South Carolina is excavating its coal ash from every unlined, leaking lagoon in the state and cleanups will be underway at every coal ash site in North Carolina. Coal ash has been, is being, and will be removed from coal ash pits owned by three utilities on rivers that flow through both states.

SELC reached the settlement on behalf of Appalachian Voices, the Stokes County Branch of the NAACP, MountainTrue, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Roanoke River Basin Association, Cape Fear River Watch, Neuse River Foundation/Sound Rivers, and the N.C. State Conference of the NAACP.

“Coal ash pollution is an environmental justice issue, and this agreement will bring more justice to the communities around coal ash sites in North Carolina,” says Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman of the N.C. State Conference of the NAACP.

Adds Senior Attorney Holleman, who doesn’t mince words: “North Carolina’s communities will be safer and North Carolina’s water will be cleaner than they have been in decades.”

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Settlement

Where will the excavated coal ash go?

The site specific closure plan sections in the settlement agreement state that the coal ash removed from open, leaking, unlined pits sitting in groundwater and next to waterways will be moved to dry, lined landfills on-site or recycled.

How will paying for the cleanup be determined?

As always, the rates that Duke Energy can charge ratepayers are determined in separate proceedings before the N.C. Utilities Commission and can be appealed. Challenges to Duke Energy's previous attempt to recover costs related to its coal ash cleanup by the N.C. Attorney General and Sierra Club, a signatory to this agreement, are still pending before the N.C. Supreme Court. 

The settlement agreement explicitly states that nothing in it “shall be taken as an endorsement or opposition by DEQ or the Community Groups of recovery through rates of the costs incurred by Duke Energy implementing the terms of this Agreement or related Consent Order.”

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