News | June 3, 2016

Judge orders excavation of 4 more N.C. coal ash sites

Wake County Superior Court issued its order this week requiring the excavation and cleanup of coal ash from leaking, unlined pits on the Dan River in Eden, Mountain Island Lake near Charlotte, the French Broad River in Asheville, and the Cape Fear River in Wilmington.

“North Carolina’s Superior Court has now ordered the excavation and removal of coal ash at seven of fourteen leaking Duke Energy coal ash storage sites across North Carolina,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “This latest order ensures the protection of four communities and rivers across the state, even if politicians in Raleigh ever decide to change the Coal Ash Management Act’s requirement that the coal ash at these four sites be excavated.

These historic cleanups of leaking, dangerous coal ash sites are the result of five years of work by citizen conservation groups from North Carolina’s mountains to the coast, to protect our rivers and communities from toxic coal ash pollution.

The orders were entered in response to requests by Duke Energy and SELC that the court require excavation and the removal of the coal ash from seven locations in North Carolina to dry, lined storage away from waterways and groundwater. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) surprisingly opposed the court-ordered excavation of coal ash at three sites, but the court rejected DEQ’s position.

An earlier order from the court required excavation of coal ash from Duke Energy’s leaking unlined pits on the Cape Fear River in Moncure, the Neuse River in Goldsboro, and the Lumber River in Lumberton.

In a 2013 public comment period, thousands of citizens and organizations demanded cleanup of coal ash lagoons across the state and rejected DEQ’s proposed sweetheart deal for Duke. This year, thousands more have called on DEQ to require excavation of coal ash at the utility’s remaining seven coal ash sites.

In South Carolina, each state utility—including Duke Energy—is removing all its coal ash from every unlined waterfront lagoon in the state. By comparison, as of the latest court order, Duke Energy is required to excavate coal ash from half of its North Carolina sites, representing about one-third of the coal ash stored in unlined pits across the state.

The seven remaining leaking coal ash sites, which represent the two-thirds of coal ash not required for clean up, are not covered by the court orders and are the subject of continuing litigation by the conservation groups represented by SELC: Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverwatch, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Dan River Basin Association, MountainTrue, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Roanoke River Basin Association, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Yadkin Riverkeeper.

Read the full court order here.