News | September 20, 2017

Duke Energy violates the law by hiding critical dam safety information

Update (10/09/17): After SELC and its clients took legal action, Duke Energy released critical dam safety information for coal ash sites across North Carolina. According to Duke Energy reports that were previously censored by the company, in violation of federal law, a spill from Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined coal ash pits could flood scores of homes, businesses, and highways throughout North Carolina with coal ash containing toxic metals and other pollutants.

Examples of what Duke Energy’s information shows for a dam breach at its Marshall and Belews Creek sites can be seen here:


Now we know what Duke Energy was trying to hide,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which represents the North Carolina groups.  “Duke Energy’s dangerous coal ash lagoons threaten families, houses, property, lakes, and rivers throughout North Carolina if they fail.  A wall of coal ash and polluted water could pour out of lagoons into neighborhoods and water supplies, flooding houses, businesses, roads, and highways.  Duke Energy should not impose these risks upon families and clean water.  Duke Energy needs to move all its coal ash to safe, dry, lined storage where it will not pollute and cannot harm North Carolina’s families and drinking water.

Local community groups across the country today sent Duke Energy and government authorities notices that they plan to bring enforcement actions against Duke Energy for withholding critical dam safety information that Duke Energy was required to disclose to communities in April of this year. SELC sent notices on behalf of community organizations regarding 10 Duke Energy sites across North Carolina where primitive, aging earthen dams hold back coal ash next to rivers and lakes. Behind dams rated High and Significant Potential Hazards, these unlined, leaking Duke Energy sites hold a total of over 92 million tons of coal ash upstream of public drinking water intakes and many are located near people’s homes and communities.

Under the federal Coal Combustion Residuals Rule enacted in 2015 following coal ash disasters, including at Duke Energy’s Dan River site in North Carolina, Duke Energy was required to make public Emergency Action Plans for each of its coal ash storage sites where a failure would likely result in loss of human life or serious harm to the environment by April 2017. Those plans are required to include inundation maps to show which surrounding areas would be damaged by a failure of Duke Energy’s dangerous coal ash storage sites and also the names and contact information for emergency responders. This information is designed to let communities know the risks they face and how to respond when a coal ash disaster occurs.

Duke Energy is the only utility in the country that is withholding this information from the public. In all of Duke Energy’s Emergency Action Plans, including in states that face flooding and hurricanes, Duke Energy has blacked out the coal ash spill maps and information for how to contact emergency responders in the event of a disaster. An example of one of these blacked out plans can be seen here. Emergency Action Plans for all of Duke Energy’s sites can be found at this link.

Of all the utilities in the country, only Duke Energy is withholding this information—what does Duke Energy have to hide?” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “Duke Energy is scared of the public reaction when people learn how much of their communities will be devastated by coal ash and toxic water pollution if Duke Energy’s dangerous coal ash storage sites fail. North Carolina’s communities near Duke Energy’s coal ash sites deserve better than this.

Today’s notices challenge Duke Energy’s effort to withhold information regarding the following Duke Energy coal ash storage sites in North Carolina:

  • Allen on Lake Wylie near Belmont and Charlotte;
  • Asheville on the French Broad River near Asheville;
  • Belews Creek on the Dan River in Stokes County near Eden and Madison;
  • Cliffside (Rogers Energy) on the Broad River near Shelby;
  • Dan River on the Dan River near Danville;
  • Lee on the Neuse River near Goldsboro;
  • Marshall on Lake Norman near Davidson and Charlotte;
  • Mayo on Mayo Lake and the Dan River near Roxboro;
  • Roxboro on Hyco Lake and the Dan River near Roxboro;
  • Weatherspoon on the Lumber River in Robeson County near Lumberton.

Duke Energy’s operating companies are on nationwide federal criminal probation because in 2015 they pleaded guilty 18 times to nine Clean Water Act crimes committed at its coal ash sites across North Carolina. Duke Energy was responsible for one of the largest coal ash disasters in U.S. history when its Dan River coal ash site failed in 2014, spilling over 20 million gallons of coal ash polluted water and 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Duke Energy is facing continuing litigation at six of its coal ash sites in North Carolina where it continues to refuse to remove its coal ash from leaking and polluting unlined pits on the banks of rivers and lakes in North Carolina. By criminal plea agreement, court order, settlement agreement, and regulatory requirements, Duke Energy is required to remove all its coal ash from 10 of its sites in North and South Carolina.

The notices SELC sent today were on behalf of these community groups in North Carolina: Appalachian Voices, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, MountainTrue, Roanoke River Basin Association, Sound Rivers, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Winyah Rivers Foundation.

As Michael Pucci, president of the Roanoke River Associated noted:

People here along the Dan River and Roanoke River watershed remember Duke Energy’s coal ash spill and we don’t want any community to be caught unprepared by the next coal ash disaster.