Press Release | August 2, 2017

Court Action Seeks to Get Duke Energy Coal Ash Out of Groundwater and Stop Leaks into Hyco Lake

Chapel Hill, N.C.–The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Roanoke River Basin Association, today filed an enforcement action in federal court against Duke Energy for its illegal plans to leave over 19 million tons of coal ash in groundwater, in a floodplain, and behind old leaking dams at its Roxboro facility in Person County, N.C.  National standards for coal ash storage require Duke Energy to remove its coal ash from groundwater and the floodplain, and eliminate the impoundments behind its old, leaking earthen dams on the banks of Hyco Lake.  Because of its violations of these coal ash safety standards, Duke Energy’s Roxboro unlined, leaking coal ash storage site is considered an illegal open dump.

“Duke Energy wants to leave its coal ash sitting in over 60 feet of groundwater and in a floodplain on the banks of Hyco Lake,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “Duke Energy needs to obey the law and put forward a plan to get its ash out of the groundwater, to remove the ash from the floodplain, to get rid of its dangerous dams, and to safely store its coal ash where it won’t pollute.”

Today’s filing asks the court to require Duke Energy to comply with the law by setting forth a closure plan that gets its coal ash out of the groundwater, that removes coal ash from the floodplain, and that eliminates the impoundments behind the dams.  In violation of national minimum standards, Duke Energy proposed to leave its coal ash in its decades-old leaking, unlined pits at Roxboro, in over 60 feet of groundwater, in the floodplain on the banks of Hyco Lake, and behind aging, leaking earthen dams.  Duke Energy made public its plans for closure of its leaking, unlined Roxboro coal ash lagoons in November of 2016 as required by the U.S. Coal Combustion Residuals Rule. After TVA’s Kingston coal ash disaster in 2008 and Duke Energy’s coal ash catastrophe on the Dan River in 2014, the national Coal Combustion Residuals Rule was adopted in 2015 to establish minimum national standards for safe storage of coal ash.  

“Duke Energy spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, and now Duke Energy wants to leave 19 million tons of its coal ash sitting in old unlined pits in the waters of the Dan River and Roanoke River Basins,” said Scott Van Der Hyde, executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association.  “We’re only asking Duke Energy to do the responsible thing and get its ash out of the waters of our river system.”

At every other site in North Carolina where it stores coal ash in a floodplain, Duke Energy has announced plans to remove the ash and move it to a lined landfill.  At Roxboro, one of the two coal ash lagoons sits in the floodplain of Hyco Lake.

At Roxboro, Duke Energy has a modern lined landfill on site and adequate room to expand the landfill to hold the coal ash in the Roxboro lagoons.  For years, Duke Energy’s unlined Roxboro coal ash pits have polluted Hyco Lake,  groundwater, and Sargents River, all of which are part of the Dan River and Roanoke River Basins.

The dam for Duke Energy’s West Ash Basin coal ash lagoon at Roxboro has been rated a High Hazard dam by North Carolina, and Duke Energy itself has rated both Roxboro coal ash dams as Significant Potential Hazard dams.

The association filed suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina where the Roxboro coal ash pits are located.  The Southern Environmental Law Center and the association gave Duke Energy the required written notice of its illegal conduct 60 days ago as required by federal law, but during the last two months Duke Energy has not come into compliance with the law.

In June, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the association filed a similar suit against Duke Energy for its plans to leave coal ash in groundwater and in an impoundment at the nearby Mayo plant, also in Person County.

Duke Energy’s illegal coal ash storage at Roxboro is already the subject of a state court enforcement proceeding brought by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, in which the association is a party represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.  The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Association have also brought a Clean Water Act enforcement action in federal court against Duke Energy for its illegal coal ash water pollution at Roxboro. 


About the Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.

About the Roanoke River Basin Association:
The Roanoke River Basin Association is a non-profit organization based in Danville, Virginia, whose mission is to establish and carry out a strategy for the development, use, preservation and enhancement of the resources of the Roanoke River system of lakes and streams in the best interest of present and future generations.  RRBA consists of hundreds of members, primarily located within the 410-mile-long Roanoke River basin in Virginia and North Carolina, including local governments; non-profit, civic and community organizations; regional government entities; businesses and individuals. 

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

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]