Enviro groups try to expand presence in Duke coal ash litigation

The Southern Environmental Law Center on Jan. 15 filed motions in court to allow seven conservation groups to participate in state court enforcement actions against Duke Energy’s (NYSE: DUK) alleged coal ash pollution throughout North Carolina.

“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 groups are seeking 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, the center said. For example, the Lee power plant 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, the center claimed.

Last year, the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources filed enforcement actions against Duke for 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, the center said.

The 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 center added. 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 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.

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. The Jan. 15 intervention motion asks for the same action for additional sites represented by the seven 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.

Duke Energy, which has two utility subsidiaries in North Carolina, has said its ash burial and monitoring practices comply with all applicable laws.

The center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama).

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.