Press Release | November 23, 2016

Conservation Groups Reach Settlement with Duke Energy on Sutton Coal Ash

Up to $1.5 million secured for clean water and conservation in the lower Cape Fear Watershed near Wilmington

Chapel Hill, N.C.—Conservation groups have reached a settlement with Duke Energy that secures up to $1.5 million for water quality and conservation efforts in the lower Cape Fear Watershed near Wilmington.

The Southern Environmental Law Center represents Cape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance in litigation with Duke Energy over coal ash pollution at Duke Energy’s Sutton facility next to Sutton Lake and the Cape Fear River near Wilmington. Earlier this year, the N.C. Superior Court entered an order in that litigation requiring that Duke Energy excavate all the coal ash from leaking, unlined pits at Sutton, and that excavation is underway. However, that state court order did not resolve the claims of the conservation groups regarding coal ash pollution of Sutton Lake. Those claims are pending in a separate federal suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina and today’s settlement resolves that federal case.

Under this settlement, Duke Energy will place $1 million in a fund to be used to improve water quality and conserve watershed lands in the lower Cape Fear Basin at and below the Sutton plant. Duke Energy will provide up to $250,000 in additional funds for the effort, as a dollar-for-dollar match for other funds raised by conservation groups. As a result, the effort is designed to invest $1.5 million in the waters and watershed lands of the lower Cape Fear Watershed that are used and enjoyed by local communities. The federal litigation regarding the Sutton facility will be dismissed.

“This settlement will benefit the waters, lands, and communities of the lower Cape Fear Watershed for years to come,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, who represents the conservation groups in the case. “With this settlement, the conservation groups have now achieved their goals to address Duke Energy’s coal ash storage at Sutton. The Sutton coal ash is being moved to safe dry, lined storage, the water from the Sutton coal ash lagoons is being treated, the Flemington community has gotten a waterline, and now the waters of the Cape Fear will be improved to compensate for the coal ash pollution of our waters.”

The funds will be administered and invested by an oversight board made up of representatives of Cape Fear River Watch, Waterkeeper Alliance, Duke Energy, the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and the Southeastern North Carolina Environmental Justice Coalition.

“The Cape Fear River and its watershed will benefit tremendously from this settlement,” said Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “We’ve been fighting to protect the waters of the Cape Fear from coal ash pollution, and this settlement is a step forward in restoring the Cape Fear and its watershed.”

The litigation over Duke Energy’s coal ash storage at Sutton began with a 60-Day Notice under the Clean Water Act issued by the Southern Environmental Law Center in 2013. Fifty-nine days later, a state court enforcement action was filed in N.C. Superior Court, and the court allowed conservation groups to intervene in that proceeding. The Southern Environmental Law Center also filed a separate federal Clean Water Act suit addressing coal ash pollution of the Cape Fear River and Sutton Lake. After the Superior Court’s order requiring excavation of all coal ash at Sutton and this settlement redressing water pollution, all the litigation dealing with the Sutton site has concluded.

“People throughout the Wilmington region will benefit from this settlement and the outcome of this effort,” said Dave Rogers, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign representative in North Carolina. “The river, the lake, and groundwater supplies will be protected by the ash removal, and the water resources of the region will be enhanced by the efforts funded by this $1.5 million settlement.”

Litigation dealing with eight of Duke Energy’s 14 leaking, unlined coal ash sites in North Carolina has now been concluded. By court order or settlement, conservation groups have now resolved coal ash pollution litigation with Duke Energy at Riverbend, Asheville, Sutton, Dan River, Cape Fear, Lee, Weatherspoon, and Buck with requirements for excavation of all coal ash at those sites to dry, lined storage or recycling for concrete. Conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center continue to enforce the law in court at Duke Energy’s Mayo, Roxboro, Belew’s Creek, Cliffside (Rogers), Marshall, and Allen sites to obtain protections for communities and rivers across North Carolina.

“This is one more step to protect and restore North Carolina’s rivers and lakes from the effects of coal ash pollution,” said Pete Harrison, Waterkeeper Alliance’s attorney. “We want to see that the communities and rivers at Duke Energy’s other six sites are also protected from coal ash pollution.”

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 WATERKEEPER® Alliance

Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement uniting over 290 Waterkeeper organizations around the world and focusing citizen advocacy on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. Waterkeepers patrol and protect more than 2.5 million square miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. For more information please visit


About the Southern Environmental Law Center

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Frank Holleman

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 919-967-1450