Press Release | May 16, 2017

Groups Go to Court to Stop Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution of Roanoke River Basin

Duke Energy Coal Ash Polluting Same River Basin that Suffered Dan River Spill

Chapel Hill, N.C.–The Southern Environmental Law Center today filed a Clean Water Act citizen suit enforcement action in federal court against Duke Energy for its ongoing illegal coal ash pollution at its Roxboro plant on Hyco Lake in Person County, N.C.  SELC filed the enforcement action on behalf of the Roanoke River Basin Association in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro.  Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution from its unlined, leaking pits at Roxboro flows into Hyco Lake, Sargents River, and the Dan River – all of which are part of the Roanoke River Basin that flows through North Carolina and Virginia.

“Duke Energy continues to dump coal ash pollution from Roxboro into the Dan River and Roanoke River Basins – the same river systems where Duke Energy had its catastrophic Dan River coal ash spill,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution is contaminating our clean water and drinking water sources for communities in both North Carolina and Virginia. It’s time for Duke Energy to do the right thing and move its leaking coal ash to dry, lined storage where it will not pollute our water.”

In a desperate attempt to try to preempt enforcement in North Carolina against its illegal coal ash water pollution, Duke Energy last week filed a baseless law suit in Virginia against the Roanoke River Basin Association.  Duke Energy’s unprecedented legal maneuver attempts to avoid having North Carolina’s federal courts address Duke Energy’s violations of the Clean Water Act at its Roxboro coal ash lagoons in Person County, North Carolina. The SELC and association plan to file a motion to dismiss this Virginia suit.

At the Roxboro plant, Duke Energy stores 19 million tons of coal ash in two unlined pits on the banks of Hyco Lake and Sargents River.  One of the pits is in the floodplain.  In both pits, coal ash sits in over 60 feet of groundwater.  Both pits leak and dump coal as pollution directly into Sargents River, Hyco Lake, and several streams.

“Duke Energy needs to stop polluting Hyco Lake, the Dan River, and the Roanoke River with toxics and heavy metals from its coal ash,” said Mike Pucci, president of the Roanoke River Basin Association.  “Duke Energy is treating the Roanoke River Basin as its coal ash pollution dumping ground, and Duke Energy’s pollution of our drinking water supplies has to come to an end.”

At Roxboro, Duke Energy has appropriated Sargents River and a bay of Hyco Lake as part of its wastewater treatment facility and dumps untreated coal ash pollution into these public waters without giving them the protections required by the Clean Water Act.  Hyco Lake is a popular public recreational lake, where people swim, boat, and fish.  Duke Energy mistreated another North Carolina lake, Sutton Lake, the same way, but was forced to stop dumping untreated coal ash pollution into that lake after a successful Clean Water Act suit also brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Hyco Lake has suffered for years from Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution.  Duke Energy’s own consultants have concluded that it is not safe for people who fish in the lake to regularly eat fish from Hyco Lake.  In past years, fish populations in Hyco Lake died out due to Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution. 

Bromides from coal ash pollution have been found in Hyco Lake.  When those bromides flow downstream and are taken in by local water systems that use chlorine to treat the river water, Duke Energy’s bromides result in cancer-causing pollutants in the treated drinking water supplies=.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is also representing the Roanoke River Basin Association in state court enforcement proceedings in North Carolina Superior Court to seek cleanup of Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution at Roxboro and in a federal and state clean water litigation against Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution at its Mayo plant near Roxboro, also on the Dan River and in the Roanoke River Basin.


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]

Frank Holleman

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 919-967-1450