New N.C. permit for Duke Energy coal ash pollution gets mixed reviews

North Carolina’s Lake Norman is a popular destination for boaters, fishers and others. (© Amy Meredith)

In response to SELC legal action, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality today announced that it will no longer permit natural streams as pollution-carrying discharge channels at Duke Energy’s Marshall steam station, north of Charlotte. Today’s agency action reversed its earlier decision, which conservation groups challenged, that authorized Duke Energy to use those streams as channels for disposing of its coal ash pollution.

According to its announcement, DEQ will also require Duke to protect groundwater quality at the shore of Lake Norman, abandoning a policy that allowed Duke Energy to contaminate groundwater underneath the lake.

Although these changes are welcome, the groups are disappointed that DEQ delayed Duke’s compliance with pollution limits following a Trump administration rollback of an environmental law, known as the Effluent Limitations Guideline, which set limits on several toxic pollutants from power plants and their unlined coal ash pits. DEQ today followed suit by giving Duke five years, until the end of 2023, to keep dumping its coal ash pollution into Lake Norman—a move that the conservation groups oppose.

“We fought hard to protect North Carolina's streams and lakes from being used as dumps for Duke Energy's coal ash pollution, and this permit is a step in the right direction,” said Senior Attorney D.J. Gerken. “Unfortunately, this permit also follows the Trump administration’s lead by delaying Duke’s obligation to stop polluting waterways with several toxins and install cleaner technology for handling coal ash. Duke Energy’s already said it could get the job done much faster, and regulators should hold the company to its word.”

SELC took legal action on behalf of Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

“We are pleased to see some common sense improvements to Duke’s permit to discharge wastewater into Lake Norman, upstream of the Charlotte region’s drinking water intakes,” said Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins. “However, this permit leaves a lot to be desired. Especially now, in 2018, Duke can and should be doing more to keep its own pollution on its own site or not generate the pollution at all. It is a privilege to discharge pollution into public waterways, and Duke must—without prompts from the public, groups like ours, nor DEQ—strive to be a better upstream neighbor.”

Marshall is one of six Duke Energy plants in North Carolina where the utility has not agreed to move its toxic coal ash into dry, lined storage away from our waterways.

"While we agree that Duke should not be permitted to dump its coal ash pollution into North Carolina streams," said Dave Rogers, Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign representative for North Carolina, "the company should act quickly to repair the damage it has caused and to bring an end to the source of the problem: its burning of coal."

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