Press Release | November 18, 2013

Conservation Groups Get Voice in Coal Ash Fight

Court Rules Conservation Groups Are Full Parties in Sutton Plant Action

The Wake County Superior Court ruled that conservation groups may participate as full parties in the enforcement action brought by North Carolina against Duke Energy Progress for coal ash pollution at the Sutton Plant near Wilmington, NC.  The Southern Environmental Law Center sought to intervene in the state enforcement action on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, the Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance.  Duke Energy Progress opposed the participation of the conservation groups.

“This ruling ensures that community interests in clean drinking water and a healthy Sutton Lake will be represented at the table,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “Duke tried to shut out the conservation groups, but the court rejected its position.”

In June 2013, the Southern Environmental Law Center sent the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources and Duke Energy Progress a 60-Day Notice under the Clean Water Act that it would bring suit to enforce the Clean Water Act against Duke Energy Progress for its coal ash pollution of groundwater and Sutton Lake if DENR did not.  At the end of the 60-Day period in August, DENR filed the pending state enforcement action against Duke Energy Progress for violating North Carolina’s groundwater laws.  The court’s ruling allows the conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center to participate in the state’s civil prosecution against Duke Energy Progress on the same footing as the state and Duke Energy Progress.

“Duke Energy Progress should clean up its coal ash pollution of our community’s groundwater, our drinking water, and Sutton Lake,” said Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper.  “This ruling will ensure that the interests of the entire community are heard in court.”

Earlier this fall, the local water utility announced a deal to install a water line to protect residents near the Sutton facility whose drinking water supply wells are threatened by Duke Energy Progress’s coal ash pollution.  As part of that deal, Duke Energy Progress has insisted that 11,000 acres of groundwater – 17 square miles – be placed off limits to the public water system forever, due to the threat from Duke Energy Progress’s coal ash contamination of groundwater supplies.  The water system’s existing drinking water wells will be abandoned.

“Coal ash is polluting North Carolina’s ground water and rivers from the mountains to the coast,” said Kelly Martin, with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.  “We will be working in this case and others to ensure that coal ash pollution is cleaned up and our water is protected.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center has also filed suit in federal court against Duke Energy Progress on behalf of the conservation groups to clean up the coal ash pollution of groundwater and Sutton Lake.  That suit sets out claims for violations of the Clean Water Act that North Carolina did not bring in its state civil prosecution.

“North Carolina’s water resources and its citizens are suffering from coal ash pollution,” said Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance.  “By storing its coal ash in primitive pits and lagoons beside our waterways, Duke Energy Progress is threatening one of our most precious resources, clean water.”

About Cape Fear River Watch
Founded in 1993, Cape Fear River Watch works to protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy, and action.

About the Sierra Club
Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. Inspired by nature, we are 2.1 million of your friends and neighbors, working together to protect our communities and the planet. Read more at

About the Waterkeeper Alliance
Founded in 1999 by environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and several veteran Waterkeeper Organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.


Press Contacts

Frank Holleman

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 919-967-1450