News | December 18, 2015

Staff report: Majority of Duke’s N.C. coal ash lagoons present “high risk”

27 of Duke Energy’s 32 coal ash lagoons in North Carolina are high risk, according to an analysis by state staff. An additional three pits were listed as intermediate risk, with only two receiving a low-risk designation.

The upside to these unsettling evaluation results is that, under North Carolina’s 2014 coal ash legislation, lagoons that are high or immediate risk must move the ash out of unlined pits next to waterways to safe, dry, lined storage. Intermediate and low risk lagoons are given a longer timeline for clean ups. If an unlined lagoon is labeled low risk, there is a chance that the ash will be left in an unlined pit.  

Duke Energy committed to moving ash at half of its sites to dry lined storage earlier this year, but 70 percent of the 108 million tons of wet coal ash stored in North Carolina is not covered in this plan.

The next step will be to watch and see what, if any, changes the political leadership of the agency make in their rankings, which will be issued on December.31. In October, a U.S. District Court judge in North Carolina questioned the state environmental agency’s enforcement intentions. Advocates for citizens’ rights and the environment will be watching closely.

“We’ve been told all along by DEQ that science and facts will determine the outcome,” Senior Attorney Frank Holleman told the Charlotte Observer. “If the political leadership at headquarters decides to change (the staff ratings), we would expect a very detailed, fact-based reason to change what they’re getting from the field.”