Report: North Carolina commission gives Duke break on coal ash

The North Carolina Environmental Management Commission on Dec. 3 refused to grant a request by environmental groups to impose tough new coal ash disposal requirements on the Duke Energy Carolinas and Progress Energy Carolinas subsidiaries of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK).

Cape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and Western North Carolina Alliance in October had petitioned the commission to issue a ruling overturning a lenient interpretation of coal ash rules from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

In a 9-2 ruling, the commission said Dec. 3 that the utilities don’t have to clean up or shut down 14 ash pits that collect tons of waste at coal-burning power plants throughout the state, said a report by the local News Observer.

In a Nov. 27 brief arguing against the petition by the environmental groups, the utilities told the commission in part: “Petitioners’ requests, if granted, would mandate significant changes to the groundwater management and corrective action programs at coal ash lagoons, and it is likely that these significant changes would not be limited to coal ash facilities. If the Commission accepts Petitioners’ reading of the 2L Rules, DENR will either have to apply the same reading to all other facilities regulated under the rules or read into the rules a special provision for coal ash lagoons that does not currently exist. Accordingly, there is significant concern on the part of the operators of other facilities that this will lead to similar disruptions to the groundwater management and corrective action programs applicable to those facilities, as reflected in the statements from other industries and associations that are attached to this memorandum.”

The environmental groups had asked for three commission rulings:

  • Operators of coal ash lagoons with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits first issued on or before Dec. 30, 1983, must take corrective action when their activity results in an increase in the concentration of a substance in excess of groundwater quality standards, whether or not groundwater quality standards have been exceeded at or beyond a compliance boundary around the lagoon;
  • Operators of coal ash lagoons with NPDES permits first issued on or before Dec, 30, 1983, must take immediate action to eliminate sources of contamination that cause a concentration of a substance in excess of groundwater quality standards, in advance of their separate obligation to propose and implement a corrective action plan for the restoration of groundwater quality contaminated by those sources; and
  • Operators of closed and inactive coal ash lagoons must implement corrective action as unpermitted activities when they cause an increase in the concentration of a substance in excess of groundwater quality standards.

The environmental groups told the commission in their Oct. 10 petition: “Fourteen coal-fired power plants in North Carolina operate unlined coal ash lagoons – impoundments containing a slurry of coal combustion waste and water. DENR has documented groundwater contamination in excess of North Carolina’s groundwater standards around each of those lagoons. The contaminated groundwater exceeds standards for substances including arsenic, thallium, boron, sulfate, nickel, iron, chromium, manganese, and selenium.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.