Enviros seek to join North Carolina suit against Duke Energy Progress

Conservation groups on Aug. 27 filed in court to join North Carolina’s complaint against Duke Energy Progress over its allegedy illegal groundwater pollution from coal ash at its Sutton facility near Wilmington, N.C., said the Southern Environmental Law Center in an Aug 27 statement.

It said the coal waste has contaminated the area with arsenic, selenium, and other toxic pollutants, which threaten a local community’s drinking water supply. The motion to intervene in the state enforcement action was filed by the center on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, the Sierra Club, and the Waterkeeper Alliance. The state’s suit was a response to a 60-Day Notice of intent from those groups that they bring suit against Progress for alleged Sutton coal ash pollution.

“The groundwater pollution at Sutton is serious and threatens the drinking water wells for the nearby Flemington community,” said Frank Holleman, the senior attorney for the center who represents the groups. “Independent citizens groups must be at the table to be sure that the public is protected from Progress’s serious coal ash pollution.”

Near the end of the 60-Day Notice period on Aug. 16, North Carolina sued Progress for alleged coal ash pollution at six coal ash sites, including Sutton. In a separate action, North Carolina also sued Duke Energy Carolinas, another subsidiary of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), for alleged coal ash pollution at six other locations across the state. In total, pollution from Duke Energy’s coal ash waste at 14 facilities in North Carolina  is now before the courts, the center said.

Said a section on coal ash on Duke’s website:  “If we were to find that our operations were affecting the quality of neighboring drinking water supplies, we would work closely with regulators to address and resolve the issue. Duke Energy has invested tens of millions of dollars converting from fly-ash storage in ponds to dry fly-ash handling systems with disposal in lined landfills at nearly all of our large, scrubbed coal plants. These newer landfills are required to have synthetic liners, as well as drainage collection systems and groundwater monitoring wells. And as we retire and decommission older coal plants over the next several years, we will close coal-ash basins in compliance with state and federal regulations. We will continue to monitor the groundwater around those basins and responsibly manage those sites for many years.”

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Aug. 16 that it filed two complaints in Wake and Mecklenburg counties seeking a state Superior Court order to require the utility to address groundwater and wastewater violations at 12 sites the utility uses to store coal ash residuals. Each complaint addresses alleged violations found at six facilities.

“Monitoring of groundwater at the compliance boundaries of the 12 power plants revealed levels of chemical constituents that exceed standards for groundwater protection,” said the agency. “Also, state water quality inspectors have observed seeps, or releases of liquids not authorized as part of the permitted discharges, at most of the facilities.”

The two lawsuits relate to alleged permit violations the state found at: the Cliffside station; Buck station; Allen station; Belews Creek station; Dan River Combined Cycle Station; Marshall station; Cape Fear plant; H.F. Lee plant; Mayo plant; Roxboro plant; L. V. Sutton plant; and Weatherspoon plant.

Earlier this year, the department filed motions for injunctive relief requiring the utility to address similar wastewater discharge permit compliance issues at the utility’s Asheville plant in Buncombe County and the Riverbend station in Gaston County. The state in July proposed a consent order with the utility regarding the Asheville and Riverbend locations. The proposed consent order would require the utility to determine the extent of the contamination, address the violations or potential violations at the two plants, pay a civil penalty for past violations and stiff fines assessed daily if the companies fail to comply with the requirements of the final consent order. The state also gave the public 30 days to comment on the proposed consent order.

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.