Duke Energy to Clean Up Robinson, S.C., Coal Ash after Conservation Groups Disclose Contamination at the Site

Chapel Hill, N.C. – After the Southern Environmental Law Center and Coastal Conservation League disclosed arsenic pollution and the dumping of low-level radioactive waste at the site, Duke Energy today announced it would clean up its coal ash stored beside Lake Robinson in Darlington County, South Carolina.  For months, the groups urged Duke Energy to excavate its polluting ash from unlined pits to dry, lined, storage away from the Lake.  With this announcement, all South Carolina utilities have agreed to clean up all the coal ash they store in South Carolina in unlined riverfront pits.

“This is a victory for South Carolinians who have raised concerns about coal ash pollution at Robinson, and it appears Duke has decided to do the right thing,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the league in this matter. “It is well past time that this dangerous and polluting coal ash storage be moved to safe, dry, lined storage away from Lake Robinson and Black Creek.”

Until recently, Duke Energy had reported that it stored only 660,000 tons of coal ash at Robinson and reported no serious problems there.  The Southern Environmental Law Center uncovered documentation that Duke Energy’s coal ash has contaminated groundwater with arsenic at 100 times in excess of the legal limits; that the utility had dumped low-level radioactive waste in the unlined coal ash pit; and that the coal ash reaches 18 feet into the groundwater.  In addition, the documentation showed serious concerns about the safety of Duke Energy’s coal ash dam.  The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control notified Duke Energy that it is violating South Carolina law due to its arsenic pollution at Robinson.  Duke Energy has admitted that in fact it stores 4.2 million tons of coal ash at Robinson, more than six times as much as it had previously claimed.

“Lake Robinson, Black Creek and the people who live and use these resources must be protected from illegal arsenic pollution,” said Nancy Cave, North Coast Office Director for the Coastal Conservation League.   “It is critically important that Duke Energy move this coal ash to safe, dry, lined storage for the safety of the community.”

In 2012, the Southern Environmental Law Center settled litigation with both South Carolina Electric and Gas and Santee Cooper over their coal ash storage, and both utilities committed themselves to clean up all their unlined coal ash storage in South Carolina.  In late 2014, the Southern Environmental Law Center reached agreement with Duke Energy for the cleanup of its leaking coal ash storage on the Saluda River near Anderson, South Carolina.  The Robinson coal ash pits are the last utility coal ash site in South Carolina that the utility had not agreed to clean up.

Last week, residents near Duke Energy coal ash sites across North Carolina received letters from the state advising them not to drink their water due to contamination from known and possible carcinogens associated with coal ash. Duke Energy is facing nine federal criminal charges in North Carolina in connection with its coal ash storage and is expected to plead guilty to those crimes on May 14.  Duke Energy faces 10 lawsuits in North Carolina for illegal and polluting coal ash storage.  In response to litigation brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center and the catastrophic failure at its Dan River coal ash lagoons, Duke Energy has agreed to clean up four coal ash storage sites in North Carolina.  Duke Energy has yet to commit to clean up 10 additional coal ash sites in North Carolina.

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About the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League:
Since 1989, the Coastal Conservation League has been working with communities, businesses, other conservation and citizen groups to protect what we love about the South Carolina coast. From the white sand beaches and pristine marshes to the freshwater swamps and pine savannahs, we focus on the most efficient and effective ways to protect natural habitats, the wildlife that depends on them and the variety of benefits they bring to this state. We also believe that the communities we live in, the air we breathe and the water we depend upon are important and that our quality of life deserves the same high level of attention. To learn more, go to www.coastalconservationleague.org

About the Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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