Press Release | February 22, 2017

Proposed Permits Allow Duke Energy to Discharge Pollutants into North Carolina Rivers and Lakes

Chapel Hill, N.C.–On behalf of the Roanoke River Basin Association and Appalachian Voices, the Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments on proposed permits for leaking, unlined Duke Energy coal ash sites that would allow Duke Energy to discharge unlimited amounts of several dangerous coal ash pollutants into North Carolina’s rivers and lakes.  In January 2017, the draft  permits were issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality for Duke Energy’s Belews Creek, Mayo, and Roxboro facilities, all of which discharge into the Dan River Basin.  Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution from these sites also contaminates Mayo Lake, Hyco Lake, and Belews Lake – all of which are popular fishing and recreational lakes.

These comments add to the hundreds of comments that were submitted in 2016 by citizens throughout North Carolina on earlier, similar drafts of the same permits.  Almost unanimously, the citizens of North Carolina called on DEQ to strengthen the permits, to require tight limits for Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution, and to mandate that Duke Energy remove its coal ash from unlined, leaking pits in groundwater and next to waterways.

“These inadequate draft permits would allow Duke Energy to dump millions of gallons of coal ash polluted water into some of North Carolina’s most important lakes and waterways with no effective limits on a long list of toxic pollutants,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “For years, North Carolina has suffered from inadequate leadership at DEQ, and we hope the new leadership will show through the final permits that they are serious about protecting North Carolina’s clean water from Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution.”

The draft permits also treat creeks, rivers, and lakes as dumping grounds for Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution without protecting these North Carolina and United States waters with the protections of the Clean Water Act.   The draft permits would allow Duke Energy to treat Hyco Lake, Sargents Creek, and Crutchfield Branch in Person County and Little Belews Creek in Stokes County as Duke Energy’s private wastewater treatment dumps, even though they are free-flowing bodies of water upon which North Carolina and its natural resources depend.

“The Dan River and Roanoke River Basins have suffered the most from Duke Energy’s illegal coal ash pollution, yet these DEQ draft permits would allow Duke Energy to pollute the Dan River Basin with abandon,” said Mike Pucci, president of the Roanoke River Basin.  “The decisions on these permits will show whether the new DEQ leadership will protect the Dan River, or whether it will just continue policies designed to protect Duke Energy and not our clean water.”

The draft permits roll back Clean Water protections that have been contained in Duke Energy’s permits for years.  They would make it legal for Duke Energy’s coal ash wastewater treatment lagoons to spew leaks of contaminated coal ash water into lakes, rivers, and creeks – something that is now illegal and that formed the basis for a number of criminal guilty pleas by Duke Energy’s operating companies in 2015.  They also would remove specific protections for individual streams.  These draft permits do not require Duke Energy to remove coal ash from these leaking, unlined pits – even though excavation of the coal ash is the only proven solution to Duke Energy’s continuing pollution of groundwater, drinking water supplies, rivers, lakes, and streams.

At the Belews Creek site, Duke Energy continues to pollute the Dan River with bromide, causing cancer-causing substances to show up in drinking water systems downstream.

“If DEQ is going to protect drinking water taken from the Dan River, DEQ has to address Duke Energy’s bromide pollution which is flowing from its unlined coal ash pit,” said Amy Adams, North Carolina program manager of Appalachian Voices.  “This is DEQ’s chance to step up for the people and drinking water supplies of North Carolina.”


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.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

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