SELC Monitoring Sutton Coal Ash Release in Wake of Hurricane Florence

CHAPEL HILL, NC — Following reports of a coal ash breach at Duke Energy's Sutton Power Station in Wilmington, SELC and partners are monitoring the situation and awaiting more information on the extent of the damage at this site and for other impacts in the wake of Hurricane Florence. SELC Senior Attorney Frank Holleman issued the following statement:

This spill illustrates the dangers of Duke Energy’s practice of disposing of coal ash near waterways throughout North and South Carolina. Disposing of coal ash close to waterways is hazardous, and Duke Energy compounds the problem by leaving most of its ash in primitive unlined pits filled with water. In fact, at six  locations in North Carolina, Duke Energy wants to leave coal ash in unlined pits next to waterways forever. Coal ash contains toxic substances like arsenic, mercury, lead, and selenium, and a coal ash spill not only pollutes waterways with sludge but also with toxic pollutants. In this instance, it appears that Duke Energy has not done enough to ensure that its new Wilmington landfill safely stores coal ash.

After this storm, we hope that Duke Energy will commit itself to removing its ash from all its unlined waterfront pits and, if it refuses, that the state of North Carolina will require it to remove the ash from these unlined pits. We also hope that Duke Energy will take the necessary steps to ensure that its landfill at Sutton in Wilmington is secure and will not spill when there are storms, floods, or hurricanes.

Note: Duke Energy minimizes the importance of Sutton Lake by calling it a “cooling pond.” However, it is a large public lake used for fishing and recreation. When the lake was initially created by damming a public stream, Duke Energy was required to manage it as a public fishing lake. In 2015 in response to litigation we brought against Duke Energy, the state of North Carolina confirmed that Sutton Lake is a public water and not a private pond of Duke Energy. The lake receives all the protections of water pollution control and water quality laws, including the Clean Water Act.

It is more accurate to describe Sutton Lake as public lake that Duke Energy uses to cool the water from its Sutton gas plant.

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