News | April 19, 2016

SELC, partners urge DEQ to excavate Duke Energy coal ash

On behalf of citizen groups across North Carolina, SELC submitted comments advocating that all of Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined coal ash pits threatening our drinking water sources across the state are high risk and high priority. The comments detail how proposals by Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to leave coal ash in the existing pits—unlined and leaking into our groundwater—would continue the pollution of our groundwater, rivers, and lakes.

SELC’s analysis also demonstrates how Duke Energy’s models and DEQ’s ratings are riddled with errors, mistakes, and manipulations.

“Duke Energy claimed it would rely on science in making its recommendations, but instead it has submitted reports that are junk science,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “They artificially exclude neighborhoods, create false boundaries around coal ash lagoons that exclude the impact of groundwater contamination, and assume that coal ash does not add contaminants to groundwater. In other words, Duke Energy has designed its models to try to justify leaving coal ash in unlined pits next to our waterways. DEQ should reject this phony analysis and instead protect all communities and all drinking water supplies by recognizing the high risk of letting Duke Energy leave its coal ash mess in our groundwater and beside our rivers.”

Key points from comments submitted by SELC include:

  • Duke Energy’s groundwater models contain “flow boundaries” that assume the groundwater pollution does not flow into neighborhoods.
  • Duke Energy’s groundwater models treat coal ash as though it does not add pollution to groundwater as the water flows through coal ash.
  • Duke Energy’s groundwater models fail to provide complete information, then asks DEQ to find sites low risk because Duke hasn’t provided the necessary information.
  • Duke Energy’s proposals would leave coal ash deep in North Carolina’s groundwater and would pollute rivers, streams, and lakes for decades, even centuries, to come.
  • DEQ’s proposed ratings pick out just three “Key Factors” for its ranking decisions, even though the state’s Coal Ash Management Act requires consideration of many harms from Duke Energy’s leaking unlined storage. By considering a limited number of factors, DEQ has illegally understated the risk from Duke Energy’s coal ash.
  • DEQ’s proposed risk ratings do not give adequate weight to pollution of natural resources and to protecting natural resources for future generations, again illegally understating the risk from Duke Energy’s coal ash.
  • DEQ’s proposed risk ratings would not require Duke Energy to remove coal ash from any of its leaking unlined lagoons, except for those that Duke Energy has already agreed to excavate. By seeking to protect Duke Energy from having to take additional appropriate steps to protect North Carolina’s clean water and communities, DEQ has watered down the risk ratings for all the other sites.
  • DEQ has graded North Carolina’s coal ash ponds on a curve by arbitrarily assuming that some leaking coal ash pits containing millions of tons of coal ash are low risk, some are intermediate, and some are high. In fact, any coal ash site containing millions of tons of coal ash in a leaking, unlined pit next to a waterway is high risk. There is no basis in fact or the state Coal Ash Management Act to assume that some of Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined coal ash pits must be low risk.

The state will be collecting citizen comments and reviewing them before issuing its final rankings.

Please note, the comment period for Duke’s Cape Fear, Mayo, and Roxboro sites has been extended until April 25.

SELC 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.