NCDEQ proposes permitting Duke Energy’s leaks of coal ash polluted wastewater into rivers

Permits now available for public comment would allow leaks of coal ash-polluted wastewater at three Duke Energy sites into the Roanoke and Dan Rivers. (© Carl Galie)

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has proposed three new permits to allow Duke Energy once more to pollute the Roanoke River Basin with polluted wastewater—the same river basin where Duke Energy had its 2014 catastrophic spill. The three proposed permits are a major step backward for clean water.

In 2014, Duke Energy’s Dan River site dumped over 20 million gallons of coal ash polluted wastewater and 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. The permits covering the Dan River site in Danville and the Mayo and Roxboro sites, near Roxboro in Person County, would allow Duke Energy to dump many more million gallons of untreated coal ash polluted water from these three plants. The permits also allow Duke Energy to turn streams into private coal ash pollution ditches, or effluent channels, with no limits on the utility’s coal ash pollution of them.

“It is hard to believe that North Carolina’s environmental agency would authorize Duke Energy to dump millions of gallons of untreated coal ash polluted water into the Dan River Basin after the catastrophe of the 2014 Dan River spill,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “Instead of getting Duke Energy to clean up and stop its coal ash pollution, DEQ proposes to allow Duke Energy to put unlimited arsenic, mercury, and lead from its coal ash pits into the lakes and rivers that the communities in the Dan River Basin depend on.”

At all three sites, DEQ would allow Duke Energy to turn streams into wastewater ditches polluted with unregulated amounts of coal ash pollution.

At Mayo in Person County, the existing Clean Water Act permit prohibits any discharges into Crutchfield Branch, an important tributary of the Dan River that flows from North Carolina into Virginia. The new permit would legalize numerous flows of coal ash pollution into this stream from Duke Energy’s unlined, leaking earthen coal ash dam, and allow them to pollute Crutchfield Branch with unlimited amounts of arsenic, mercury, and many other pollutants. Crutchfield Branch already has water quality problems just downstream of Duke’s coal ash pit at Mayo.

At Mayo, DEQ also proposes to allow Duke Energy to pump out arsenic from the coal ash pit into Mayo Lake, a popular fishing destination, at 34 times the federal standard. Similarly, at Roxboro, the new permit would allow Duke Energy to pump out all the wastewater from its leaking, unlined coal ash lagoons into Hyco Lake, a regional recreational lake, with no limits on toxic pollutants including arsenic, mercury, lead, thallium, and many others.

At Dan River, the new permit would allow Duke Energy to pump out all the polluted wastewater that remains in its unlined coal ash lagoons after the catastrophic 2014 spill into the Dan River, again with no limits on arsenic, lead, thallium, and many other pollutants.

DEQ is accepting public comment on these proposed permits. As part of this effort, the department will hold a public hearing in October to gather feedback on the draft permits. The public hearing for the Roxboro and Mayo facilities is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4 at the Person County Government Building, 304 S. Morgan St., Roxboro, N.C. Speaker registration will begin at 5 p.m.

Your comments on the draft wastewater permits also can be emailed to with “Mayo” or “Roxboro” in the subject line. Mailed comments should be sent to: Wastewater Permitting, Attn: Mayo Permit or Roxboro Permit, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C., 27699.

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