News | December 31, 2015

NC DEQ fails to rate the risk of most Duke Energy’s coal ash

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is required by state law to act today (New Year’s Eve) to rate the risks posed by Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites across the state.  This requirement is contained in the same state statute that designated four of Duke Energy’s 14 leaking coal ash sites as high risk sites requiring the coal ash to be removed to safer dry, lined storage.   In a statement regarding today’s announcement by DEQ, Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, who represents citizen groups in court that have been seeking cleanup of the sites, said:

“Once again, the DEQ political leadership has failed to do its job to protect North Carolina’s clean water and communities.  The Coal Ash Management Act requires DEQ no later than today to issue risk ratings for all of Duke Energy’s remaining coal ash lagoons, but the DEQ leadership has failed to do so.  While its own professional staff was able to determine the risk of these dangerous sites and concluded that almost all of Duke Energy’s coal ash sites pose a high risk to North Carolina’s communities, DEQ determined that none are high risk contrary to science and common sense. Almost two years have passed since the Dan River spill and three years have passed since conservation groups woke up DEQ by threatening legal action to force a cleanup of these sites.  Yet DEQ’s leadership still won’t take action to protect North Carolina.  Politics has trumped science and common sense. 

“By failing to rate the risk of most of Duke Energy’s coal ash sites, DEQ is refusing to determine whether the coal ash must be excavated from these sites to safe, dry, lined storage.  In fact, all but one of the sites where DEQ has determined that the ash should be excavated are the sites where Duke Energy has already agreed with conservation groups to excavate the ash.  When will DEQ require that Duke Energy clean up its coal ash mess?”

As earlier reported, DEQ’s professional staff ratings contained in a public record document determined that almost all of Duke Energy’s NC coal ash sites are high risk. High risk sites and intermediate risks sites must be excavated and the ash moved to safe, dry, lined storage.

Duke Energy and the Southern Environmental Law Center asked Superior Court to order excavation and removal of ash from 7 of its 14 coal ash sites across North Carolina, including Asheville, Riverbend, Sutton, Dan River, Cape Fear, Lee, and Weatherspoon.  NC DEQ opposed entry of the orders requiring cleanup of leaking coal ash sites on the Cape Fear River in Moncure, the Neuse River in Goldsboro, and the Lumber River in Lumberton. As reported earlier, the judge agreed to order cleanup of these 7 sites.

As reported in October 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina (case 1:14-cv-753) questioned the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality enforcement of clean water protections and approved citizen involvement in a coal ash case against Duke Energy; “The Court is unable to find that DENR was trying diligently or that its state enforcement action was calculated, in good faith, to require compliance with the [Clean Water] Act. (from page 16 of the court ruling) 

The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the following citizens groups in court to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution from all 14 leaking Duke Energy sites across North Carolina: 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.