Filing defends N.C. order requiring Duke Energy to clean up 6 coal ash sites

Duke’s refusal follows years of public outcry, pollution, crimes, and spills

Sunsets on the Catawba River in western North Carolina.  (© Ken Teeter)

Community groups represented by SELC today moved to intervene in appeals filed by Duke Energy attempting to avoid cleaning up its coal ash pollution at six sites in North Carolina. At those sites, Duke Energy stores toxic coal ash in unlined, leaking pits sitting in groundwater next to rivers, lakes, and drinking water reservoirs. For years, and again in 2019, thousands of North Carolina families have called upon the state government and Duke Energy to clean up all of Duke’s leaking, unlined coal ash pits across the state.

“All of North Carolina’s waters and all its citizens deserve protection from Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash pollution,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “Years of study show the only way to protect North Carolina families is to remove Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash waste from polluting, unlined waterfront pits. When the coal ash from all of Duke’s sites is finally out of our groundwater in dry, lined storage at each site, North Carolina’s rivers will be cleaner, North Carolina’s drinking water will be safer, and North Carolina’s communities will be more secure.”

All of North Carolina’s waters and all its citizens deserve protection from Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash pollution.”

—Senior Attorney Frank Holleman

State scientists determined that excavation was the only acceptable option because Duke Energy’s coal ash sits deep in the groundwater, and if left in unlined, leaking lagoons as Duke proposes, it would continue to pollute indefinitely. According to Duke Energy’s own analyses, it has the ability to remove the wet ash from unlined pits to dry, lined landfills on-site at each of the six sites in question. Duke Energy is required to clean up seven other coal ash sites in North Carolina by court order and an eighth coal ash site by a settlement agreement with SELC, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Yadkin Riverkeeper.

Duke Energy’s operating companies in North Carolina are under criminal probation after they pleaded guilty 18 times to nine coal ash crimes committed at sites across the state. Duke Energy has a long record of coal ash pollution from the catastrophic Dan River coal ash spill and additional spills, including spills from its pits in Goldsboro and Wilmington in recent storms and continuing flows of pollution from its unlined pits across the state where coal ash sits in groundwater next to rivers and lakes. Duke Energy has repeatedly told the public its coal ash storage was safe, and repeatedly, Duke Energy has been proven wrong, with serious consequences for North Carolina communities and waterways.

With these agency orders, North Carolina joins its neighboring states in requiring cleanup of dangerous unlined coal ash storage. Every utility in South Carolina is already excavating all the coal ash from every unlined lagoon in the state, and Virginia recently passed legislation that requires Dominion to excavate all its unlined coal ash lagoons. The pollution from the six sites that are the subjects of Duke Energy’s appeals flows through North Carolina and into South Carolina and Virginia.

SELC represents the following citizen groups in today’s filings: Appalachian Voices, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, MountainTrue, Roanoke River Basin Association, Sierra Club, the Stokes County Branch of the NAACP, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

A timeline highlighting key moments in North Carolina's coal ash history is available here.  

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