Press Release | January 15, 2014

Local Groups Seek Clean Up of Duke’s Coal Ash Pollution Across North Carolina

The Southern Environmental Law Center today filed motions to allow seven local conservation groups to participate in state court enforcement actions against Duke Energy’s illegal coal ash pollution of lakes, rivers, and groundwater supplying drinking water for individual families and local communities throughout North Carolina.  The motion was filed on behalf of groups dedicated to protecting public waters across North Carolina, from the Broad River in the west to the Cape Fear at the coast.

“Duke’s coal ash pollution is threatening rivers, lakes, and drinking water in every part of North Carolina,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Local groups from around the state have come together to help ensure that the state and Duke Energy take meaningful action to clean up Duke’s illegal coal ash pollution across North Carolina.”

The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, Cape Fear River Watch, Appalachian Voices, Western North Carolina Alliance, the Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Waterkeeper Alliance seek to stop and clean up unpermitted streams of contaminated surface water discharging from many of Duke’s coal ash lagoons, as well as persistent groundwater pollution leaching from these unlined impoundments.

For example, the Lee facility on the banks of the Neuse River near Goldsboro has groundwater concentrations of arsenic as high as 665 parts per billion, more than 60 times the North Carolina standard, near neighboring residential areas. Other sites have a long legacy of illegal, unpermitted coal ash discharges: at Belews Lake, selenium from coal ash killed off nearly all the lake’s fish in the 1980s, and problems persist today.

“With DENR’s declared mission of ‘customer service’ to its polluter-permittees, groups like ours that are dedicated to protecting our lakes and rivers for recreation and drinking water need a voice in this process,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks.

Last year, the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources filed enforcement actions against Duke for its coal ash pollution at its Asheville and Riverbend facilities after local conservation groups announced their intent to take private legal action.  When conservation groups sent another notice of intent to sue over pollution at the Sutton facility near Wilmington, DENR filed its own actions for Duke’s other 12 coal ash sites around North Carolina.

DENR and Duke proposed a settlement of the Asheville and Riverbend cases that does not require Duke to clean up its coal ash pollution, and almost 5,000 citizens and organizations submitted comments opposed to the settlement.  The court has not yet decided whether to accept the proposed settlement.

“South Carolina is busy cleaning up its coal ash problem – it’s time for North Carolina to catch up,” said Christine Ellis of the Winyah Rivers Foundation.

The Winyah Rivers Foundation, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, recently obtained a settlement under which South Carolina utility Santee Cooper will remove all of its coal ash from unlined lagoons on the banks of the Waccamaw River. Facing similar liability at two other coal ash sites, the utility announced plans to remove all its coal ash from those sites as well, for a total of 11 million tons of coal ash to be recycled or moved to dry storage in lined landfills.  An earlier suit by Charlotte’s Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation resulted in the cleanup of 2.4 million tons of coal ash by South Carolina utility SCE&G.

The North Carolina court has previously allowed other groups to intervene with respect to Duke’s coal ash sites on Mountain Island Lake, north of Charlotte; on Lakes Wylie and Norman along the Catawba River; Duke’s Asheville site; and its Sutton site near Wilmington on the Cape Fear River.  Today’s intervention motion asks for the same action for additional sites represented by the seven conservation groups.  Those additional facilities are: 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; Cape Fear, on the Cape Fear River south of Jordan Lake in Chatham County; and Belews Creek on Belews Lake near Winston-Salem.

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 or call 336-722-4949.

About Western North Carolina Alliance
For more than 30 years, the Western North Carolina Alliance has been a trusted community partner, marshalling grassroots support to keep our forests healthy, our air and water clean, and our communities vibrant.

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.

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.

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

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

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