Press Release | June 14, 2016

Citizen Groups Take Duke Energy to Federal Court for Coal Ash Pollution at its Mayo Site

Chapel Hill, N.C.–The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Roanoke River Basin Association, today brought a Clean Water Act enforcement action in federal court against Duke Energy for its coal ash pollution at its Mayo facility in Roxboro, North Carolina.  This facility is located on the banks of Mayo Lake and on Crutchfield Branch in Person County near the North Carolina/Virginia state line.  At Mayo, Duke Energy stores 6.9 million tons of coal ash in an unlined, leaking pit filled with water.  Duke Energy’s Mayo coal ash is in the Dan River and Roanoke River Basin, where Duke Energy had its 2014 catastrophic spill.  Today’s action was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, where a similar suit is pending for coal ash pollution at Duke Energy’s Buck facility in Salisbury.

“Duke Energy needs to clean up this leaking and polluting coal ash pit,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the Roanoke River Basin Association.  “Citizens across Person County and North Carolina have called on Duke Energy to move its Mayo coal ash to safe, dry lined storage nearby, but Duke Energy has refused to listen to the citizens of the state and wants to pollute Person County forever.”

Duke Energy has a modern, lined landfill at the Mayo facility with adequate capacity to hold all the coal ash from the Mayo pit and also ash from continuing operation of the plant.  Yet, Duke Energy has insisted upon leaving the Mayo coal ash in a primitive unlined, leaking pit and even lobbied the legislature to pass a bill that would excuse Duke Energy from cleaning up its Mayo coal ash.

Materials filed by Duke Energy itself show:

  • Coal ash is in 80 feet of groundwater;
  • Groundwater has been polluted with coal ash contaminants including arsenic, chromium, cobalt, antimony, barium, boron, , iron, manganese, pH, thallium, total dissolved solids, and vanadium.
  • The groundwater flows from the site into Crutchfield Branch, which flows into the Dan River Basin, and Mayo Lake:
  • Duke Energy has been directly dumping polluted water from the Mayo pit into Crutchfield Branch;
  • Crutchfield Branch has been polluted by contaminants, including aluminum, boron, copper, iron, manganese, thallium, vanadium, and zinc;
  • Duke Energy wants to “cap in place” or cover up its 6.9 million tons of coal ash in the unlined, leaking pit, guaranteeing continued water pollution for years to come.

“Duke Energy has polluted the Roanoke River Basin with more coal ash than any other area of North Carolina,” said Mike Pucci, president of the Roanoke River Basin Association.  “We suffered the Dan River spill and do not deserve more Duke Energy pollution at Mayo.”

In response to Clean Water Act enforcement efforts by the Southern Environmental Law Center and its clients, in 2013 North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality filed state court enforcement actions as to Mayo and all other Duke Energy coal ash sites in North Carolina.  The federal Clean Water Act suit filed today includes federal claims not pursued by DEQ. 

In addition, the U.S. District Court has found that DEQ is not diligently prosecuting those actions, and DEQ has taken no action in the state proceedings to require Duke Energy to remove the ash from the Mayo pits. 

After widespread public demands at a public hearing and in public comments, in May of 2016 DEQ ranked the Mayo site as an “intermediate” site requiring Duke Energy to remove the ash.  However, Duke Energy has subsequently lobbied the legislature to overturn that finding, and DEQ itself indicated it would later ask the legislature for authority to rescind the finding that North Carolina’s Coal Ash Management Act required.  None of the North Carolina political machinations, however, affect the ability of North Carolina citizens to enforce the Clean Water Act against Duke Energy. 

In 2015, Duke Energy companies pleaded guilty 18 times to nine Clean Water Act crimes at five other sites across the state, including the Dan River site.

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Kathleen Sullivan

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Phone: 919-945-7106
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