Press Release | June 20, 2017

Court Action Seeks to Get Duke Energy Coal Ash Out of Groundwater

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 6 million tons of coal ash in groundwater and a stream behind an old leaking dam at its Mayo facility in Person County, N.C.  National standards for coal ash storage require Duke Energy to remove its coal ash from groundwater and the stream, and eliminate the impoundment behind its old, leaking earthen dam on the banks of Mayo Lake.  Because of its violations of these coal ash safety standards, Duke Energy’s Mayo unlined, leaking coal ash storage site is considered an illegal open dump.

“Duke Energy wants to leave its coal ash sitting in 70 feet of groundwater and in a stream that flows into the Dan River,” 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 and the stream, to get rid of its dangerous dam, 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 and the stream and that eliminates the impoundment behind the dam.  In violation of national minimum standards, Duke Energy proposed to leave its coal ash in its decades-old leaking, unlined pit at Mayo, in 70 feet of groundwater, sitting in a stream that flows into the Dan River, and behind an aging, leaking earthen dam.  Duke Energy made public its plans for closure of its leaking, unlined Mayo coal ash lagoon 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 6.6 million tons of its coal ash sitting in an old unlined pit in the waters of the Dan River and Roanoke River Basins,” said Mike Pucci, president of the Roanoke River Basin Association.  “We’re only asking Duke Energy to do the decent thing and get its ash out of the waters of our river system.”

At Mayo, Duke Energy has a modern lined landfill next to the unlined, leaking Mayo coal ash pit that could safely store all the ash from that pit, as well as all the ash produced by the Mayo power plant.  For years, Duke Energy’s unlined Mayo coal ash pit has polluted Mayo Lake, groundwater, and Crutchfield Branch, which flows into the Dan River. Mayo Lake, the stream, and the Dan River are part of the Roanoke River Basin.

Duke Energy’s Mayo coal ash dam has been rated a High Hazard dam by North Carolina, and Duke Energy itself has rated the Mayo coal ash dam as a Significant Potential Hazard dam.

The conservation groups filed suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina where the Mayo coal ash pit is 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.

Duke Energy’s illegal coal ash storage at Mayo 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 Mayo.  Duke Energy recently lost a motion to dismiss that lawsuit, and that case is moving forward.

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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. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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.    https://www.rrba.org/

Press Contacts

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-967-1450
Email: ksullivan@selcnc.org