SELC, partners obtain agreement requiring coal ash removal from Duke Energy’s Buck Plant

An agreement announced today will move Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution away from the shores of North Carolina’s Yadkin River. (© Susan Smith)

SELC, Yadkin Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance reached a settlement with Duke Energy that requires the removal of all the coal ash from the unlined, leaking coal ash pits at Duke Energy’s Buck facility on the Yadkin River in Salisbury, North Carolina. Under the settlement agreement, Duke Energy must remove all the coal ash and either recycle it into concrete or put it in a modern lined landfill away from the river and separated from groundwater and drinking water sources.

Duke Energy plans to set up a concrete recycling facility at the Buck site much like the ones serving South Carolina utilities, which entered into similar settlements with conservation groups represented by SELC in 2012 and 2013.

“This settlement is the latest in a long line of agreements we’ve obtained from utilities to abandon dangerous, unlined storage of coal ash for safe, dry lined storage or recycling for concrete,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman, who argued the case before the federal court. “Duke Energy’s finally done the right thing for this community by entering into a binding agreement that requires the coal ash to be removed and recycled, just as has been done in South Carolina. We hope that Duke Energy and other utilities will take the same steps to protect other communities and rivers from coal ash pollution. Southeastern utilities are now excavating 60 million tons of coal ash from leaking, unlined pits throughout the region.”

Duke Energy stores approximately 5 million tons of coal ash at the Buck facility. The site has been polluting groundwater and the Yadkin River for years.

“After two years of fighting the largest utility in the country, the Dukeville community will finally be assured of the two things we have been fighting for: a long-term supply of clean drinking water and meaningful ash clean up,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper, Will Scott. “After years of litigation and controversy, Duke Energy has finally entered into a binding agreement that requires them to do what the community and Riverkeepers have been asking all along—remove their ash from unlined pits sitting deep in groundwater.”

This settlement was reached in federal litigation brought by SELC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina against Duke Energy on behalf of the Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance. North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality is not a party to the litigation and is not a party to the settlement.

In response to litigation and advocacy by conservation groups in North and South Carolina, Duke Energy is now required to excavate the coal ash from 10 of its 16 coal ash storage locations in the two states. Litigation continues on Duke Energy’s unlined and polluting coal ash storage at its six other sites in North Carolina: Mayo and Roxboro in Person County; Cliffside on the Broad River; Allen and Marshall on the Catawba River near Charlotte; and Belews Creek in Stokes County.

The conservation groups have been pressing litigation against Duke Energy for its coal ash storage at the Buck site since 2013, and the federal suit was filed in 2014. The conservation groups were able to bring a federal court enforcement action because the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality had not taken action against all of Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution violations at Buck. In 2015, the federal court found that it could not conclude that DEQ was diligently prosecuting Duke Energy in good faith for its Buck pollution.

For years, South Carolina utilities have been pursuing similar solutions to unlined coal ash storage pits in that state. This settlement agreement is very similar to others that have reached with South Carolina utilities. Today, a concrete reprocessing facility is being operated to recycle the ash from Santee Cooper’s unlined coal ash pits in South Carolina. Santee Cooper settled with conservation groups in 2013.

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