Court Grants Conservation Groups Participation in NC Coal Ash Cases
The North Carolina Superior Court has granted requests filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center that conservation groups from across North Carolina participate as full parties in the pending enforcement actions brought by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources against Duke Energy for illegal coal ash pollution of the state’s rivers, groundwater, and drinking water reservoirs. DENR brought the enforcement actions in response to a Clean Water Act notice sent by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Sierra Club. (Links to Wake County Superior Court and Mecklenburg County Superior Court orders).
“It’s essential that local community groups be full parties in the enforcement actions to ensure that Duke Energy’s illegal coal ash pollution is cleaned up and that the coal ash is moved to safe, dry storage in lined landfills away from our waterways,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’ve learned the hard way that the people of North Carolina cannot count on DENR to enforce the laws and keep our waters clean without strong pressure from conservation groups.”
The court ordered that these conservation groups may participate as full parties in the enforcement proceedings: Cape Fear River Watch, the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, the Western North Carolina Alliance, the Winyah Rivers Foundation, Yadkin Riverkeeper, Appalachian Voices, Waterkeeper Alliance, the Dan River Basin Association, the Roanoke River Basin Association, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The court previously ordered that the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and the Sierra Club may participate as full parties in the litigation.
In February, Duke spilled tens of millions of gallons of coal ash and polluted wastewater into the Dan River. In March, DENR abandoned its proposed settlement of pending enforcement actions. In April, the state court ruled that conservation groups can obtain documents and other information from Duke, denying a request from Duke to either prevent such requests entirely or keep the information secret. The groups just admitted to the case will be able to seek information from Duke about all the sites they represent.
The groups granted entry to the enforcement cases by this ruling represent lakes and rivers affected by the following Duke Energy coal ash sites: the Dan River facility on the Dan River in Eden; Buck, on High Rock Lake near Salisbury; Cliffside, on the Broad River near Shelby; Weatherspoon, on the Lumber River near Lumberton; Lee, on the Upper Neuse River north of Goldsboro; the Cape Fear facility on the Cape Fear River south of Jordan Lake in Chatham County; and the Belews Creek facility on Belews Lake near Winston-Salem.
Quotes from the new parties follow:
“Coal ash is not just a Dan River problem, it is a state wide problem that the Riverkeepers around the state have documented,” said Matthew Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, Neuse River Foundation. “The time to act is now not years from now, we know what the problems are and we know how to fix them. The hand holding between the state and polluters must end and action must be taken to protect the water that North Carolinians depend on.”
“We are pleased that the court recognizes the value that environmental advocacy groups bring to the table, and we are happy to now be able to advocate for a full cleanup of coal ash at the Cliffside plant just as we are at the Asheville plant,” said Julie Mayfield, director, Western North Carolina Alliance.
“We are pleased that the court has recognized our important role as watchdogs of clean water within the Lumber River Basin and look forward to participating in the pending enforcement actions to ensure fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for North Carolinians,” said Christine Ellis, river advocate, Winyah Rivers Foundation.
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 nearly 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. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About the Dan River Basin Association
The Dan River Basin Association was created by residents to protect and promote the natural and cultural assets of the 3,300 square mile Dan River basin in Virginia and North Carolina through education, recreation and stewardship. www.danriver.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. http://prod.rrba.org/.
About the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation
Neuse RIVERKEEPER® Foundation protects, restores and preserves the Neuse River basin through education, advocacy and enforcement, in order to provide clean water for drinking, recreation and enjoyment to the communities that it serves.
About the Yadkin Riverkeeper
Yadkin Riverkeeper’s mission is to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action. It is aimed at creating a clean and healthy river that sustains life and is cherished by its people. To achieve this vision, it seeks to accomplish the following objectives: sustain a RIVERKEEPER® program, measurably improve water quality, reestablish native bio-diversity, preserve and enhance the forest canopy, bring legal action to enforce state and federal environmental laws, and teach and practice a “river ethic” of ecological respect to all ages. For more information, visit YadkinRiverkeeper.org or call 336-722-4949.
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 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 Winyah Rivers Foundation
The Winyah Rivers Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed. Our goal is to protect our community's right to fishable, swimmable and drinkable water. We pursue this goal through education and advocacy programs in support of our mission to protect our river resources. These programs are developed and implemented to increase the scientific literacy of our community, including local decision makers, and to engage them in environmental stewardship and planning for river resource protections.
About Appalachian Voices
Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental nonprofit organization committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Knoxville, Tn. and Washington, D.C. www.AppalachianVoices.org
About the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast.
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.