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Coal Ash Bill Leaves Questions

A bill (SB-729) that would close all coal-ash ponds in the state by 2029 is now in the hands of the North Carolina House. Among the provisions, it requires Duke Energy to remove the ash from four of its plants and place it into lined landfills.

While it sounds like the solution citizens and environmental groups have been asking for, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper – Kemp Burdette – says he’s concerned that the coal-ash ponds near him and others are left off the list. “There’s no real detail about what cleanup means for these other 10 sites. These ponds are frequently built on top of existing streams, frequently built on wetland areas.”

The Duke plant on the Cape Fear River is not among the four scheduled for immediate cleanup in the bill, but in recent years there’s been evidence of toxic coal ash leaking into the ground water supply of area residents. Duke recently partnered with the local water department to create a new water source for the families effected. On the list to be immediately cleaned up are the Asheville, Sutton, Dan River and Riverbend sites. Duke says it continues to cooperate with the state.

Supporters say the Senate bill expands on the proposal to clean up the coal ash by Governor Pat McCrory – who retired from Duke Energy.

However, Burdette and others are concerned that it will allow Duke to reclassify illegal discharges of coal ash under permits already approved by the state. “What this bill does is basically say that, with the stroke of a pen, we’re going to take what has been illegal discharges, un-permitted discharges, and we’re just going to kind of wrap them under existing permits.”

The legislation also does not require Duke or other companies to use liner systems in any new storage of toxic coal ash, but it does require the company to monitor groundwater for the next 30 years.

DENR Duke Energy Lawsuit

de_logoInternal emails between staff at North Carolina’s environmental agency show state regulators were coordinating with Duke Energy before intervening in efforts by citizens groups trying to sue the company over pollution leeching from its coal ash dumps. In February, DENR Secretary John Skvarla refuted reports the department intervened. The emails show a Duke lobbyist contacted the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, where staff exchanged messages discussing “how Duke wants to be sued.” The emails were provided Thursday to The Associated Press by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which had filed notice in January 2013 of its intent to sue Duke under the Clean Water Act. The agency used its authority to intervene in the lawsuit, quickly negotiating a proposed settlement where the billion company would pay a ,100 fine but be under no requirement to stop its pollution. This information comes on the same day Democrats at the North Carolina legislature say Duke Energy should be forced to move all of its coal ash to lined landfills away from water and make shareholders – not customers – pay for the cleanup. House and Senate Democrats unveiled Thursday the framework of a bill they intend to introduce when the General Assembly reconvenes in May. They want Republicans in charge of the legislature to join them given last month’s coal ash pond rupture along the Dan River. Durham Democratic Representative Paul Luebke says the spill is Duke’s responsibility.

Duke Energy Coal Ash Ruling

de_logoA North Carolina judge says Duke Energy must take immediate action to eliminate the source of groundwater pollution at its coal ash dumps. The ruling stems from legal action taken by the Southern Environmental Law Center in 2012. Frank Holleman, with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said “there is no way the current status will protect the environment”. A statement issued from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said “these interpretations were made under the Perdue administration”. Wake County Judge Paul Ridgeway says state regulators failed to properly apply the law.  The group asked the Environmental Management Commission to force Duke to take immediate corrective action when groundwater problems were discovered at the state’s 32 ash dumps. But the commission ruled against the environmental group in December 2012 and they appealed the ruling. The judge’s ruling comes a month after a massive coal ash spill from a Duke facility in Eden coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic gray sludge.