Enviro groups pressure Duke on three coal plant ash pits

The Southern Environmental Law Center on July 1 gave notice to Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources that it plans to seek enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act to clean up coal ash pits on the Cape Fear, Neuse, and Yadkin Rivers.

The notices were filed on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Yadkin Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance. They address alleged coal ash pollution and dam safety issues at Duke Energy’s Cape Fear plant (located next to the Cape Fear River), Lee plant (Neuse River) and Buck plant (Yadkin River).

“These coal ash lagoons threaten public drinking water supplies, flow illegally into rivers and groundwater, and have unsafe dams,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the center who represents the citizens groups in court on alleged violations at the Cape Fear and Lee facilities.  “Yet, Duke Energy has not cleaned up these sites, and DENR has not required Duke Energy to clean them up.”

These sites were included in state court enforcement actions filed by DENR in response to an earlier 60-day notice of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act filed by SELC and conservation groups. But DENR failed to include many of Duke Energy’s Clean Water Act violations, the center said. DENR has not required a cleanup at these sites, and Duke Energy has not committed to clean them up, the center said.

“We will take action to protect the public and North Carolina’s water resources if Duke Energy and DENR will not clean up these sites,” said John Suttles, a senior attorney at SELC who represents the citizens groups in court on violations at the Buck facility. 

The North Carolina General Assembly is considering a coal ash bill that would require cleanup of coal ash at four sites, but not the leaking coal ash at these three sites or other sites across North Carolina, the center said. It would leave the decision whether to clean up these sites to DENR and a commission made of political appointees that does not include representatives of affected communities, it added.

“Our in depth in investigations have determined that the Buck, Cape Fear and Lee coal ash ponds are among NC’s most toxic and dangerous threats to drinking water and the health of nearby communities,” said Donna Lisenby of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Despite this, the coal ash bills recently introduced in the N.C. General Assembly don’t require cleanup of these sites which made it imperative for us to take legal action today to pursue full decontamination of these high priority sites.”

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.