Press Release | August 12, 2013

Conservation Groups Join State’s Lawsuits against Duke Energy

The Wake County and Mecklenburg County Superior Courts ruled late Friday that conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center will join in state lawsuits against Duke Energy over pollution from coal ash at the French Broad River in Asheville and at Mountain Island Lake near Charlotte.  The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the Sierra Cub, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Western North Carolina Alliance in the Asheville suit and the Catawba Riverkeeper in Mountain Island Lake suit.

Duke Energy had sought to keep the conservation groups out of both suits.

“We’re pleased that the court allowed our participation in the lawsuit,” said Amelia Burnette, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the Asheville groups. “We’re committed to ensuring that Duke meets its legal mandate to stop and remedy unlawful pollution caused by its coal ash lagoons.”

The Asheville plant has two old coal ash lagoons, built in 1964 and 1982, that sprawl over 90 acres adjacent to the French Broad River, seven miles upstream from the City of Asheville.  The ash lagoons have been seeping for at least three decades, according to public records, and groundwater around the lagoons is contaminated with pollutants including boron, manganese, thallium, and selenium.

“Independent citizen groups must be at the table to ensure that the region’s drinking water is protected,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in the Mountain Island Lake suit.  “Now, we can work in the state suits to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution.”

Mountain Island Lake on the Catawba River in Gaston County is the drinking water reservoir for 860,000 people in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Gastonia, and Mount Holly.  Duke Energy stores 2.7 million tons of coal ash in lagoons on the banks of the Lake that leak into the drinking water reservoir, contaminate groundwater, and discharge pollutants including arsenic, cobalt, manganese, and iron.

Hartwell Carson, WNCA’s French Broad Riverkeeper, said storing millions of tons of coal ash right beside a major river like the French Broad is bound to cause problems. “And in this case, the lagoons are illegally polluting the river and have caused widespread groundwater contamination. Many recreationists in the region use the French Broad River, and it’s vitally important that polluters comply with laws designed to protect water quality,” Carson said.

“It is irresponsible to store 2.7 million tons of coal ash waste in leaking, polluting, unlined lagoons on the banks of Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water reservoir for one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas.  Our goal is to protect the Catawba and our drinking water,” said Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper.

“Coal ash pollution is part of the toxic legacy of coal-fired power plants in North Carolina,” said Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “The coal ash at Duke Energy’s Asheville coal plant threatens our beautiful river and the health of people living nearby. The Sierra Club and our partners want to protect our river and our community, and we can do this better as part of the state’s lawsuit.”

The enforcement actions against Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution began when the Southern Environmental Law Center sent 60-Day Notices under the Clean Water Act to the North Carolina Department of the Environmental and Natural Resources and Duke Energy that it intended to bring suit against Duke Energy for its coal ash pollution in Asheville and at Mountain Island Lake.  Near the end of the notice periods, DENR filed these enforcement suits.  The Southern Environmental Law Center then moved to intervene in the suits, and Duke Energy opposed the participation of the Conservation Groups.

In the meantime, DENR and Duke Energy have proposed a settlement of the enforcement suits that would not require Duke Energy to clean up the coal ash pollution.  That settlement is now open for public comment until August 14, 2013, and has been subject to criticism by the Conservation Groups.  Any settlement would require court approval.

About Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 1.4 million members and supporters nationwide. The Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation.
Visit us on the web at and follow us on Twitter at @sierra_club.

About Waterkeeper Alliance
Waterkeeper Alliance unites more than 200 Waterkeeper organizations that are on the front lines of the global water crisis patrolling and protecting more than 1.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Waterkeepers emphasize citizen advocacy to defend the fundamental human right to swimmable, drinkable, and fishable waters, and combine firsthand knowledge of their waterways with an unwavering commitment to the rights of their communities and to the rule of law.

About Western North Carolina Alliance
For 30 years, the Western North Carolina Alliance has been a trusted community partner, marshaling grassroots support to keep our forests healthy, our air and water clean, and our communities vibrant. WNCA empowers citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environment of Western North Carolina.

About the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a nonprofit organization with members in South and North Carolina that works to protect and restore the Catawba/Wateree River and its watershed.

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