Citizens Demand Action in North Carolina as Virginia Moves Ahead with Coal Ash Cleanups

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.-- With Virginia’s announcement today of a bipartisan agreement that requires Dominion Energy to excavate all the coal ash from its unlined waterfront lagoons in Virginia, North Carolina stands out by failing to take action on six remaining Duke Energy sites with unlined, leaking coal ash pits.  The Virginia announcement comes just weeks before the anniversary of Duke Energy’s coal ash spill into the Dan River and as North Carolina holds public meetings across the state where hundreds of citizens have turned out to urge the Cooper administration to require Duke Energy to remove its coal ash from unlined, leaking pits to dry, lined storage or recycling.  Virtually no citizen has supported Duke Energy’s cap in place or “hybrid” plans, both of which would leave all of its coal ash in unlined, leaking coal ash lagoons.

“It is well past time for Governor Cooper and the North Carolina legislature to step up to the plate and require that every community in North Carolina be protected from coal ash pollution,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who coordinates the center’s coal ash work.  “In South Carolina, all unlined utility-owned coal ash lagoons – including Duke Energy’s – are being excavated.  Now, in Virginia, the Governor and the legislature have agreed that all of Dominion’s unlined lagoons will be cleaned up.  But here in North Carolina, the governor and our state government continue to leave six communities out in the cold.  It is time that the governor and North Carolina’s leaders break their silence and call for the excavation of all the coal ash from every community in North Carolina.”

South Carolina utilities are already cleaning up all of their unlined riverfront coal ash lagoons. But in North Carolina, Duke Energy is proposing to leave its coal ash in unlined, leaking pits on the Broad and Catawba Rivers that flow into South Carolina, and the Dan River which flows into Virginia.  

Governor Cooper and North Carolina’s legislative leaders have not taken action to require Duke Energy to remove its coal ash from the remaining six unlined, leaking sites in the state where it proposes to cap its coal ash lagoons and leave the coal ash sitting in groundwater and polluting.
 
Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam and the leaders of Virginia’s legislature bipartisan agreement announced today requires Dominion Energy to excavate all the coal ash from its unlined waterfront lagoons in Virginia.  The agreement requires the removal of 28 million tons of coal ash from unlined coal ash lagoons.  The coal ash will be removed to dry, lined landfills or recycled into cement and concrete.  The Speaker of Virginia’s House of Representatives and other legislative leaders of both parties endorsed the plan, which rejects capping the coal ash in place.

In addition to the universal clean ups in South Carolina and Virginia, Indiana has recently instructed Duke Energy that it cannot leave coal ash sitting in groundwater in that state.  North Carolina has not yet taken the action that Indiana has taken, either.  Some of the coal ash polluted water from North Carolina coal ash pits is contaminating rivers and streams that flow into Virginia and South Carolina, which are requiring cleanups.  Those unlined pits are on the Broad and Catawba Rivers, which flow into South Carolina, and the Dan River, which flows into Virginia.

Due to enforcement action taken by citizen groups across North Carolina, Duke Energy is required by court orders and a settlement agreement to excavate all the coal ash from eight of its 14 coal ash sites across the state.  But at six sites, Duke Energy persists in trying to leave its coal ash in unlined pits by lakes, rivers, and drinking water reservoirs.  During his campaign, Governor Cooper promised to take action on coal ash, but since he has taken office, no new cleanups have been announced.  Duke Energy proposes to leave its coal ash in unlined pits on Lake Norman at its Marshall plant, on Lake Wylie at its Allen plant, in Stokes County at its Belews Creek plant, on Mayo Lake at its Mayo plant, on Hyco Lake at its Roxboro plant, and on the Broad River at its Cliffside plant.  In 2015, Duke Energy companies pleaded guilty 18 times to nine coal ash crimes committed at coal ash sites across North Carolina, and those companies remain on criminal probation today.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has promised to make announcements in April 2019 concerning whether Duke Energy will be required to remove its coal ash from unlined pits at these sites.  But nothing prevents Duke Energy, Governor Cooper, DEQ, or other state leaders from taking action now.

The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the following citizen groups in court seeking cleanup of Duke Energy’s toxic-laden coal ash: Appalachian Voices, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, MountainTrue, the North Carolina NAACP, Roanoke River Basin Association, the Stokes County Branch of the NAACP, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

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For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org  

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