Posts Tagged ‘Coal Ash’

Surprised? McCrory’s Coal Ash Proposal Falls Short

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 - posted by brian
Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is catching flak for a proposal on coal ash that could derail state legislators’ efforts to reform regulation of the toxic waste during the upcoming legislative session.

According to the News & Observer, McCrory’s proposal calls for “site-specific closures.” Coal ash from some ponds could be moved, other ponds would be drained and capped but likely still threaten groundwater. In other words, basically what Duke Energy has already said it plans to do.

McCrory and John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, have been adamant that a one-size-fits-all approach to coal ash isn’t prudent, talking down a vocal public that believes the toxic waste should be moved from storage near waterways to safer, lined landfills.

On its face, the bill seems to signal progress, or at least make a bad situation a little bit better. For example, it would shorten the time in which Duke would have to notify the public of spills, from 48 hours to 24. OK, probably shouldn’t have been 48 hours to begin with, but we’ll take it.

Also, while the plan would not impose deadlines on Duke to address its leaky ash ponds, it would give Duke 60 days to 90 days after the plan’s passage to submit clean-up plans for ash ponds at the four plants with the most urgent pollution threats – Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton and Asheville.

Pat McCrory

Pat McCrory

But Duke already plans to remove ash from the retired Dan River plant, the site of the massive coal ash spill that reminded the public of the toxic legacy left even after coal plants are shuttered. And the company’s plans to repurpose ash from the Riverbend and Asheville plants as fill material at the Charlotte and Asheville airports are both moving forward.

So what’s the rub? After all, McCrory’s office says it still prefers that the ash be moved away from waterways. But that’s part of the problem. Leaving pond closure timelines and what to do with all that coal ash up to Duke hasn’t worked too well up to this point. The public is demanding clean water be protected, not half measures that leave people to throw their hands in the air and say “well, hopefully Duke Energy will do the right thing.”

Citizens and environmental groups sounding off about the ties between Duke, McCrory and DENR have every reason to be skeptical. DENR’s customer-first (read: industry-first) approach had people scratching their heads long before the Dan River spill in February. And early revelations of the federal criminal investigation that followed the spill only increased the lack of trust.

Perhaps to ease those concerns, Skvarla told the News & Observer that neither McCrory’s staff nor the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources consulted Duke about the proposal.

“This is our legislation, not Duke’s legislation,” said Skvarla. That’s reassuring, I suppose. But the fact that it needs to be clarified does not inspire confidence.

The governor’s proposal could also overshadow other legislation that would do more to get this big dirty ball of coal ash that’s settled in North Carolina rolling. State Sen. Tom Apodaca, a member of McCrory’s party who plans to sponsor a bill strengthening coal ash regulation, says McCrory gave legislators no advance notice of the plan.

“The governor doesn’t do legislation. The legislature does legislation,” Apodaca told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “He should have worked with the folks in the legislature to be on the same page getting legislation drafted.”

Apodaca says the plan he intends to introduce would go further.

“We’re going to mandate actual timeframes to close these (ponds), especially those that are near water sources. We’re determined to get rid of the wet ash pond at Asheville.”

Environmental groups including Appalachian Voices want the state to use its authority to move coal ash to landfills licensed to store hazardous waste. The type of waste that contains arsenic, lead, mercury, you know, coal ash. But the N.C. Environmental Management Commission recently sided with Duke Energy and also appealed the ruling that gave the state the authority to do just that.

Appalachian Voices North Carolina campaign coordinator, Amy Adams, pointed out similarities between the legislation and the controversial settlement DENR asked a judge to throw out after months of intense criticism.

“Sections were essentially copied from the failed settlement between Duke and DENR, and then pasted into McCrory’s plan,” Adams said. “It fails to provide any deadlines, doesn’t require moving of the ash at all locations, and provides no standards for newly generated coal ash. This proposal protects Duke Energy, not North Carolina’s citizens.”

Click here to tell your legislators to reject the governor’s proposal and pass legislation that will move the toxic ash to safe, lined storage away from waterways.

Spring Happenings for Clean Water in N.C.

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - posted by amy
Children splash in North Carolina's Watauga River

Children splash in North Carolina’s Watauga River. Photo by Jamie Goodman

Spring is here and it’s time to go outside and enjoy the warm weather at the park or on the river! I’m so grateful for afternoons playing with my kids in the creek, teaching them about water bugs and sprouting plants. Times like these remind us of how thankful we are for clean water.

Appalachian Voices will be traveling across the state, joining our partners in hosting community earth day events and large public events. We hope you can join us for fun times outside while we advocate for coal ash clean up in North Carolina and defending clean water!

April 24 - Roanoke River Basin Association Town Hall in Henderson. Join neighbors, the RRBA and AV’s Amy Adams to discuss your coal ash concerns and work together to promote a cleanup strategy. 6 – 8 p.m. H. Leslie Perry Library, 205 Breckenridge St. Contact Deborah Ferruccio at deborahferrucio@gmail.com

April 26 – Two Earth Day festivals! The Piedmont Environmental Alliance fair in Winston-Salem Fairgrounds 10- 5 p.m. and Carolina Climate Action Earth Day in Marshall Park, Charlotte — be sure to stop by our table in Charlotte!

April 27 - “The Value of Water” in Boone — a community discussion about protecting our rights to safe water in the wake of the N.C. Dan River coal ash spill and the West Virginia Elk River chemical spill in early 2014. Hosted by AV and Boone Healing Arts Center. Event starts at 3 p.m. at the Boone Healing Arts Center, 838 State Farm Rd.

April 30 - “Light the Path Forward” in Charlotte — candlelight vigil to remember the effects of coal ash. 7:30 – 8:30 p.m. Duke Energy New Headquarters, 550 S. Tryon St.

May 1Mayday at Duke Shareholder Meeting in Charlotte — press conference and street theater outside of the Duke Energy annual shareholder meeting rallying for clean water, clean energy, environmental + racial + social justice, political transparency and a bright future for all. 9 – 11 a.m. Duke Energy Corporate Headquarters, 526 S. Church St. Also, in Winston-Salem catch a film screening and discuss coal ash concerns with Yadkin Riverkeeper, Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Voices. 7 p.m., Temple Emanuel, 201 Oakwood Dr.

May 10 – Belews Paddle and Picnic in Belews Creek — family fun to support protection of Belews Lake, the Dan River, and our drinking water from coal ash pollution produced by the Belews Creek power plant. 11 – 4 p.m. Rock Hill Baptist Church, 4873 Pine Hall Rd.

May 20 - Educational forum focusing on coal ash in Arden/Asheville with Sierra Club, Western North Carolina Alliance and Appalachian Voices.

North Carolina sides with Duke Energy by appealing coal ash ruling

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
A coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant. Photo by Les Stone / Greenpeace

A coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant. Photo by Les Stone / Greenpeace

Why would the state ask a judge to take away its legal authority to stop groundwater pollution?

For years, North Carolina has known that Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds are illegally contaminating groundwater. Yet the state has not taken any action to force Duke to correct the violations.

In fact, the N.C. Environmental Management Commission, the body that oversees the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and determines what DENR can enforce, determined two years ago that the state did not have the authority to make Duke clean up the source of its illegal pollution — coal ash ponds.

Last month, to the relief of concerned citizens and environmental groups, a superior court judge reversed the EMC’s prior decision, ruling that the state actually does have the legal authority to force Duke Energy to immediately clean up its coal ash ponds.

As expected, Duke Energy appealed the judge’s decision. Last week, however, in a move that surprised many, the EMC also appealed the judge’s decision. Why would the state ask a judge to take away it’s legal authority to stop groundwater pollution?

The answer likely has to do with who makes up the EMC and how they were appointed. A local Raleigh news station, WNCN, did some digging and found that at least eight of the fifteen EMC members have ties to Duke Energy or other major power companies. For example, the chairman, Benne Hutson, works for a law firm that has represented Duke Energy in court.

Given that the EMC is appointed by the Senate president pro tempore, the House speaker, and the governor — who worked for Duke Energy for 28 years — it’s not surprising that the commission has chosen to pander to corporate interests rather than adequately protect North Carolina’s water and its citizens health.

Attempts at Legislation, Regulation Follow Water Threats

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Molly Moore

Almost as soon as West Virginia American Water Company ordered 300,000 residents to avoid contact with their tap water, the question arose: why was crude MCHM, a chemical now known to be highly toxic, so poorly understood and regulated?

The lack of a clear answer brought national attention to the fact that few of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in commerce today are regulated. Of the more than 60,000 chemicals that were grandfathered in when the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, only 200 have been tested for safety.

Even before a Freedom Industries chemical tank leaked into the Elk River, efforts to upgrade the 35-year-old chemical safety law were underway. But while industry and environmental groups both claim to agree on the need for reform, opinions are split on the best way to move forward.

In the Senate, the most viable piece of legislation is the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, which was introduced last spring by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La). The bill represented a compromise for Lautenberg, who for several years had championed more stringent chemical regulations. Also in February, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) introduced a related bill — the Chemicals in Commerce Act — in the House. Both bills are supported by the American Chemistry Council, but the reception from public health and environmental organizations has ranged from lukewarm to hostile.

The bills would divide chemicals into high- and low-priority groups, with high-priority substances undergoing further review. If a chemical were deemed low-priority, however, states would lose the ability to regulate it, and it would be extremely difficult for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess or restrict the chemical later. Many of the concerns surrounding this system involve how the EPA would decide whether a chemical is high or low priority, and whether the agency could require a chemical manufacturer to provide enough information about a substance to make a sound decision.

In direct response to the West Virginia spill, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill about the storage of hazardous chemicals. Among other provisions, Manchin’s Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act would set minimum requirements for state inspections of above-ground chemical storage facilities and state-approved emergency response plans, and require that information about chemical storage be shared with drinking water systems in the same watershed.

Just as the chemical safety concerns raised by the West Virginia spill highlighted an enduring threat, Duke Energy’s February coal ash spill into the Dan River in North Carolina highlighted the persistent problems associated with coal ash storage. Following a 2008 dam rupture at a coal ash pond in Harriman, Tenn., which released one billion gallons of the toxic substance into nearby rivers, coal ash became a high-profile environmental issue. In early 2009, the EPA announced a plan to address coal ash and, among other measures, “order cleanup and repairs where needed, and develop new regulations for future safety.”

Five years later, however, there are still no federal regulations governing coal ash storage or the cleanup of contaminated sites, though the agency faces a court-ordered deadline to issue a rule by mid-December. The EPA is considering two proposals — one system would label coal ash as nonhazardous while the other would declare it hazardous and require stricter regulations. A bill that passed the House last summer and is pending in the Senate would negate any EPA regulations and leave oversight up to the states.

The Duke Energy coal ash spill also came just a few months before the EPA faces another court-ordered deadline, this one to address water pollution from coal-fired power plants. By May 22, the agency must update its 30 year-old effluent guideline rule under the Clean Water Act, which could impose the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in the wastewater that power plants discharge.

For updates on coal ash regulation, visit Appalachian Voices’ Red, White and Water campaign at appvoices.org/rww, or track chemical safety legislation on the Green Chemistry Law Report at blog.verdantlaw.com

A Moral Call to End Dangerous Coal Ash Storage

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
Concerned citizens filled a church in Eden, N.C., last week to learn more about coal ash and the threats it poses to the environment and human health.

Concerned citizens filled a church in Eden, N.C., last week to learn more about coal ash and the threats it poses to the environment and human health.

Last Monday, concerned citizens packed the pews of a local church in Eden, N.C. The crowd, which was a diverse mixture of age, race and background, assembled for a town hall meeting on coal ash organized by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP as a part of the Moral Monday movement.

Duke Energy’s Dan River coal-fired power plant is located in Eden, and it was there that a stormwater pipe below the massive coal ash pond failed in February, spewing thousands of tons of toxic laden coal ash into the Dan River.

Citizens are still seeing the effects of the spill. Mollusks and turtles are washing up dead on the banks of the Dan and local farmers are concerned that they may not be able to rely on water from the river this season or in the future.

The NAACP organized the meeting to raise awareness about the spill and its aftermath, but also to shed light on the coal ash problem that exists across North Carolina. The group is drawing attention to how most coal ash ponds are located in low-income communities and communities of color. Across the country, communities of color and poor families face environmental injustices that burden them with the economic and health impacts of pollution.

At the town hall meeting, Annie Brown gave testament to environmental injustices of coal ash. Brown has spent her entire life living near the Belews Creek Coal Plant, which has a coal ash pond with a capacity of more than four billion gallons — the largest in North Carolina. She has raised children and grandchildren in the area and has watched her family and neighbors become ill with unusual diseases and cancer. Brown bravely spoke to the packed church about her own health issues and the scores of her neighbors she has seen die prematurely over the years. Watch her entire speech here.

Annie Brown was one of seven panelists at the meeting. Others included representatives from Appalachian Voices, the Southern Environmental Law Center, NC WARN, and Dawn Witter, a resident of Danville, Va., who spoke eloquently about the economic effects the spill has had on the city and the potential health risks associated with water pollution. Witter explained that Danville was once a center for industry, and the community, economy and river have borne the burden of pollution for decades. For her, the Dan River spill was a painful continuation of that trend.

North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber gave a rousing speech about the sinful nature of the issue. He pointed out that the same government that cut healthcare for the poor, also cut back environmental regulations that protect human health, especially for those North Carolinians’ who live in communities that are the most impacted by pollution.

The information presented at the town hall meeting left little doubt in participants’ minds that Duke Energy is not a trustworthy company. Time and time again, Duke has chosen to ignore the voices of the communities in which it stores its toxic waste dumps rather than acting as responsible neighbors and protecting communities from pollution in ways that would save lives.

Last week, Duke requested that citizen groups who have intervened in the state’s coal ash lawsuits be barred from participation. The judge has yet to make a decision, but based on Duke’s previous dismissal of community concerns, it is imperative that communities be given a voice in the lawsuit. Without anyone to advocate for their health, it is likely that Duke will continue to allow life-threatening pollution to contaminate communities.

To watch more of the town hall meeting, check out the live stream here.

Duke Energy Appeals Court Order to End Coal Ash Groundwater Pollution

Friday, April 4th, 2014 - posted by brian
Duke Energy says its accountable but continues to delay any real action on coal ash.

Duke Energy says it’s accountable for its coal ash pollution while evading responsibility and delaying any real action.

Duke Energy has appealed a March 6 ruling by a Wake County judge that it must take immediate action to end groundwater pollution from its coal ash ponds at its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

The company also asked the N.C. Court of Appeals to freeze an order to clean up its coal ash pollution until the appeal can be heard.

From the Charlotte Business Journal:

Duke contends that if the stay is not granted “years of planning … will be eliminated, and significant material costs will be imposed on Duke Energy and its customers while this matter is pending appeal.”

And if an appellate court overturns the ruling, it argues, Duke and its customers will be harmed by a ruling that is no longer in force.

If you’re skeptical that Duke Energy has invested “years of planning” into how to better manage its toxic coal waste, well, you have every reason to be.

After all, would a company that has spent years of planning to resolve its coal ash issues pump 61 million gallons of toxic wastewater from coal ash ponds directly in to the Cape Fear River and call it “routine maintenance?”

Would a company that has spent years of planning to protect the public from high hazard coal ash ponds miss a large crack in an earthen dam holding back millions of gallons of sludge?

Or how about when the state asked Duke Energy to send it comprehensive documentation on how it plans to address its coal ash problem, and the letter Gov. McCrory and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resource received was four-pages long? Even DENR Secretary John Skvarla called the response “inadequate.”

“There are far too many questions left unanswered and Duke Energy should provide the information we originally requested, including the estimated costs of cleanup, plans for the future and a detailed timeline,” Skvarla said.

Don’t you think a company that has spent “years of planning” on the issue of coal ash would have some of that information? Oh, and it was only last week that Duke Energy announced it had created a “task force” to review how it handles coal ash. And the company was quick to update a website with details about its Coal Plant Decommissioning Program after the Dan River spill.

CEO Lynn Good and other Duke representatives have repeatedly said the company is accountable for the Dan River spill and coal ash pollution at other plants. So why does the company seem so focused on evading its responsibility?

Another Week of Coal Ash Coverage in North Carolina

Friday, March 28th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg

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Since Feb. 2, when the Dan River coal ash spill drew national attention to the threats coal ash poses to our waterways (again), North Carolinians have come together to tell state regulators and elected officials that the risks associated with Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds are unacceptable.

On Tuesday, the Sierra Club released a poll of more than 600 North Carolinians that showed 90 percent of voters believe Duke Energy should clean up all of its coal ash sites in the state. Of those polled, 83 percent said that coal ash should be regulated as a hazardous waste by the EPA, including majorities of Democrats (91 percent), Independents (85 percent), and Republicans (75 percent).

Support for proper storage of toxic coal ash also beyond polling data and into public life. Across the state citizens have rallied to demand Duke Energy pay to clean up its coal ash, rather than passing the costs on to their ratepayers, as the company’s CEO, Lynn Good, has suggested.

Last Saturday, North Carolinians and Virginians gathered in Eden, N.C., to support residents of Eden and the surrounding communities who love the Dan River. Organized by the Dan River Basin Association, Appalachian Voices, NC Conservation Network, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the event was an opportunity for community members to unite over food and music, provided by the very talented Dan River Girls, and stand in solidarity almost two months after the tragic and preventable coal ash spill into the Dan River.

Unfortunately, even as we celebrate all that’s beautiful about the Dan, Duke Energy continues to find new deposits of coal ash and elsewhere Duke Energy’s disregard for safety continues. After the Cape Fear Riverkeeper released aerial photographs of Duke illegally pumping toxic wastewater from coal ash ponds into the Cape Fear River, officials noticed a crack in one of the earthen dams containing the coal ash at the Cape Fear plant.

Apparently, DENR has been feeling the public pressure too. After blocking the Southern Environmental Law Center’s attempts to enforce the Clean Water Act and hold Duke accountable for unpermitted toxic discharges, DENR has asked a judge to withdraw their previous settlement with Duke Energy and allow its lawsuit to go forward.

DENR also announced that it will be working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how to remediate the problem of coal ash pollution in North Carolina. This seems to be a change of heart, after DENR turned down nearly $600,000 from the EPA to study the potential of fracking to damage water quality.

Click here to learn more about the Dan River coal ash spill and the problem of coal ash pollution.

Fouling Our Nest: Coal Ash Roundup and Next Steps

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 - posted by kara
More than a month after the Dan River spill more of Duke Energy's rogue policies related to coal ash are coming to light.

More than a month after the Dan River spill more of Duke Energy’s rogue policies related to coal ash are coming to light. Above, Appalachian Voices’ Matt Wasson collects water samples from the Dan River

We’ve seen national interest in North Carolina’s coal ash mess grow over the past month and a half, and it’s been a wild ride.

The Dan River coal ash spill on Feb. 2 sparked a wave of support for closing the 33 ash ponds owned by Duke Energy polluting North Carolina’s surface and ground waters. We’ve got a complete history of developments on this page. Here are the most recent developments:

Amy Adams, our N.C. Campaign Coordinator, participated in an outstanding News & Observer editorial interview and a community informational panel last week in Durham. She was joined by John Dorney and George Matthis, long-time employees of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources who have since retired and began speaking out against the political breakdown of the agency. The N&O interview provides the most comprehensive insight into how Gov. McCrory and his administration have degraded the agency responsible for protecting the air, land, and water we all depend on. Amy explains the threat and what’s at stake:

“No one should have to open their tap and turn on water and wonder whether this is going to kill me in 30 years. It’s called sub-lethal chronic exposure … It’s scary how many folks have cancer, multiple miscarriages, neurological issues. The watchdog that’s supposed to be in charge of that basically is a lap dog. They’re not going after the folks they need to be going after in order to protect the health of North Carolinians.”

Amid the political upheaval over coal ash regulation, we’re seeing widespread public support for Duke Energy to clean up all of the North Carolina coal ash ponds and pay for the process. 83 percent of citizens polled say they want Duke to move and store the utility’s coal ash in dry landfills and 93 percent support the state government in enforcing that demand. Surely public outcry against Duke’s blatant disregard for protecting clean water will increase over time as more aspects of the utility’s rogue maintenance policies are uncovered, including how it is pumping toxic water from coal ash ponds into the Cape Fear River.

When it comes to paying for proper ash storage in lined landfills, 79 percent of citizens agree that Duke must pay for it, not taxpayers. We couldn’t agree more. N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper says that “Duke Energy should clean up the coal ash at its own expense, and we will fight for consumers if the company tries to charge them.”

Lastly, the grand jury proceedings begin today, March 18, and will continue until all persons filed with subpoenas have been questioned. We’ll watch what comes out of the federal criminal investigation and how it influences the ever-developing argument to stop coal ash pollution in North Carolina and the U.S.

Emails indicate coordination between Duke Energy and DENR on coal ash lawsuits

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 - posted by brian
Internal emails between DENR staff reveal the agency discussed “how Duke wants to be sued” after it blocked citizen lawsuits over coal ash pollution.

Internal emails between DENR and Duke Energy reveal the agency coordinated closely with utility on how it wanted to treat its coal ash pollution after blocking multiple citizen lawsuits.

The Associated Press reported today that emails between N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources staff, officials in the N.C. Department of Justice and lawyers for Duke Energy indicate the agency coordinated with Duke after blocking citizens groups from suing the company over coal ash pollution.

The emails, provided to AP and other sources by the Southern Environmental Law Center, reveal that a Duke lobbyist contacted DENR seven weeks after SELC filed a 60-day notice of its intent to sue Duke. One exchange between an N.C. Department of Justice lawyer and DENR staff asks “how Duke wants to be sued.”

Although initial reports framed that phrase in a much more deceitful light, the exchange was one of the more innocuous of the emails released today. According to WRAL, it was part of an email thread in which lawyers working for DENR expressed confusion over the company’s proper name after it had merged with Progress Energy.

In other “more problematic” exchanges, a lawyer for Duke suggests that the consent order between Duke and DENR give Duke an opportunity to provide cleanup plans to DENR, instead of setting deadlines for Duke to take action — a wish that DENR granted.

“This is just part and parcel of DENR not enforcing the law,” Frank Holleman, a lawyer with SELC, told WRAL.

DENR spokesperson Drew Elliot claims the agency was working to ensure some action was taken, while avoiding a lengthy lawsuit.

Last summer, after intervening to prevent lawsuits brought by several groups represented by SELC against Duke for coal ash pollution at two North Carolina coal plants, DENR announced a proposed settlement that required Duke, a $50 billion company, to pay a fine of just $99,000. The settlement did not require Duke to actually address the pollution.

Two days after a public comment period ended related to that settlement, in which a single comment out of more than 4,000 thought the settlement acceptable, DENR came out with a curveball and announced it was seeking injunctions against Duke’s 12 other coal-fired power plants, effectively blocking citizen action on coal ash at every coal plant in the state.

For months nothing happened and dreams of accountability and the oversight necessary to protect communities from coal ash crumbled. But DENR Secretary John Skvarla and Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Duke employee, staunchly defended the agency, and they still are.

In the wake of the Dan River coal ash spill in February, however, major media outlets have pointed to abundant evidence that DENR may have been closer with Duke Energy than it was letting on.

It should come as little surprise that the state agency, which rewrote its mission statement to focus on “customer service,” would collude with Duke rather than letting citizen suits go forward. But since a federal criminal investigation was launched following the spill, this news is the first concrete example of coordination between Duke and DENR staff to avoid any real progress on the problem of coal ash pollution in North Carolina.

Aftermath of NC Coal Ash Spill Still Unfolding

Friday, March 7th, 2014 - posted by brian
A month after the Dan River coal ash spill, questions remain unanswered and public pressure on Duke Energy and the state continues to grow.

A month after the Dan River coal ash spill, questions remain unanswered and public pressure on Duke Energy and the state continues to grow.

It has been a month since Duke Energy and state officials plugged the failed stormwater pipe at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station that spilled between 30,000 and 50,000 tons of toxic coal ash and millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River over six days.

Regardless of the political environment in North Carolina, and the state legislature’s recent treatment of environmental rules, the Dan River spill was a major event and a reminder of the dangers of coal ash and poor enforcement. But with the anti-regulatory renown of North Carolina’s lawmakers and state agencies, it has understandably created a firestorm in Raleigh and around the state of people demanding action that many believe is long overdue.

As much as the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Governor Pat McCrory would like to wash their hands of this preventable spill, it continues to dominate state politics, and prominent coverage in national news outlets. And the aftermath of the spill is still unfolding.

Yesterday, a Wake County Judge ruled that Duke Energy must immediately take action to prevent further groundwater pollution at its 14 coal-fired power plants in North Carolina. The ruling negates previous claims by DENR that it lacks the legal authority to require cleanup of ash ponds around the state.

Duke spokesperson Erin Culbert said that the company is “considering this ruling as we take another look at our management of coal ash basins.” Duke officials have not said whether the company will appeal the decision.

The day before the ruling, DENR officials stated that failure-prone corrugated metal pipes similar to the one that ruptured under the coal ash pond along the Dan River are in use at eight other Duke plants in North Carolina, including the Belews Creek plant in Stokes County, where Appalachian Voices has worked to help community members speak out against coal ash pollution.

DENR Secretary John Skvarla speaks to reporters about the agency's response to the Dan River spill.

DENR Secretary John Skvarla speaks to reporters about the agency’s response to the Dan River spill.

Duke Energy and state regulators previously claimed the Dan River coal ash site was the only place the metal pipes had been used.

Unsurprisingly, the ecological impacts of the spill are beginning to rise to the surface. Local news outlets began reporting this week on the appearance of dead clams and mussels that are dotting the Dan River Bank for at least 20 miles downstream from the spill site. The news comes a few weeks after Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources coldly claimed “If you’re a mollusk and covered with ash then, yeah, you’re gonna die.”

Other sources have highlighted activism and public backlash in Raleigh and Charlotte, where Duke Energy is headquartered. On Feb. 25, citizens gathered at Duke’s headquarters to deliver a petition signed by more than 9,000 demanding the company take full financial responsibility for its spill and agree to move the rest of its coal ash to safer lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes.

Then, last Wednesday — especially symbolic, as Christians around the world observed Ash Wednesday — Progress NC with partner organizations, including Appalachian Voices and the North Carolina NAACP, held a protest and press conference across from Gov. McCrory’s home to call on the governor to force Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash. There, the Rev. William Barber announced the NAACP will open a federal civil rights investigation into whether Duke intentionally placed toxic waste dumps in predominantly minority communities.

Major news outlets including The New York Times and Al Jazeera America have done their own investigating, digging up dirt on how DENR’s regulatory power was crippled by anti-environmental legislation and executive directives, and how the public’s trust eroded more with each new revelation that has come after the spill.