North Carolina court calls for ash cleanup at three Duke Energy sites

On April 4 the North Carolina Superior Court issued orders requiring the cleanup of coal ash from three leaking Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) sites in North Carolina.

The order was issued by Superior Court Judge Paul C. Ridgeway in 13-CVS-11032. The case involves the state agencies, the Waterkeeper Alliance and other environmental groups as well as Duke Energy Progress.

The court’s 42-page order require the excavation and removal of coal ash from leaking unlined pits and lagoons on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington and Moncure, the Neuse River in Goldsboro, and the Lumber River in Lumberton.

The plants subject to the action are H.F. Lee Steam Station, Cape Fear Steam Station and the Weatherspoon Steam Station.

The court’s order was entered in response to a motion by Duke Energy requesting that the court order the excavation and removal of coal ash from these three locations in North Carolina to dry, lined storage away from waterways and groundwater, a move that citizens groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) supported.

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had opposed entry of this order requiring cleanup of leaking coal ash sites, according to an SELC news release.

The court has pending before it a similar summary judgment motion dealing with coal ash removal at Duke Energy’s Asheville, Riverbend, Sutton, and Dan River sites. The order does not deal with those sites; the court is expected to issue a separate order dealing with those four sites.

The public may submit comments urging removal of ash from any or all sites by April 18, 2016. The case started as a civil enforcement action by the state.

DEQ had set up a ranking system and schedule for closure and required remediation for all coal combustion residuals at surface impoundments in North Carolina.

The court order says that it does not resolve any issue with regard to any claims under a joint enforcement between DEQ and the U.S. EPA.

“Cleanup of these leaking coal ash sites, and four more covered by a pending motion, have been the goal of five years of work by citizen conservation groups from North Carolina’s mountains to the coast, to protect our rivers and communities from toxic coal ash pollution. All rivers and communities across North Carolina deserve clean water and similar protection from Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution,” said SELC Senior Attorney Frank Holleman.

“North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality actually opposed the order requiring cleanup of these three polluted sites, even though both Duke Energy and conservation groups agree that the cleanups are required to protect North Carolina’s rivers and communities,” Holleman said.

“We can only hope that North Carolina’s environmental protection agency will begin to actually protect North Carolina’s environment, and require a total cleanup of the remaining polluted coal ash sites across the state,” the SELC attorney added.

“We’re pleased the court recognizes the real progress we’ve made identifying smart and safe ways to close ash basins,” said a Duke Energy spokesperson. “We continue to make strong progress closing basins at several locations across North Carolina while, on a parallel track, we’re studying the best closure options for the remaining facilities,” the Duke official added.

The North Carolina Coal Ash Management Act required that basins be classified as low, intermediate or high, and that ranking determines the timetable for basin closure. Low sites have until 2029, intermediate is 2024 and high is 2019. The state’s current draft classification for basins at these three sites is intermediate, based on floodplain and other factors.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.