Fate of Nearly 100 Million Tons of Coal Ash Could Hinge on NCDEQ Hearings

Guest Blog | March 7, 2016 | Coal, Energy Policy
Xavier Boatright, Environmental Justice Organizer with Clean Water for NC, speaks at a March 1, 2016 DEQ coal ash hearing in Asheville, NC.

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) may allow Duke Energy and its North Carolina subsidiaries to leave an estimated 97,350,920 tons of coal ash in unlined pits (called “impoundments” or “ponds”), dangerously close to our rivers and waterways. The fate of coal ash pits rated “low” and “low-to-intermediate” risk at seven of Duke’s power plant sites could hinge on public hearings happening through the end of March. Find more detailed information on these coal ash pits in the final section of this post.

Duke’s continued reliance on coal to generate power comes at a great cost to public health and the environment. Duke has already produced an enormous amount of coal ash that needs to be properly handled and stored as soon as possible. Coal ash pits at Duke’s 14 power plants have already contaminated groundwater, and just last Friday (March 4), DEQ issued notices of violation to Duke for allowing coal ash wastewater to leak from its pits at 12 power plants across the state. Unfortunately, NC’s Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA), which creates requirements and timelines for the closure of coal ash pits, allows Duke to put a cap on pits that receive a “low-risk” rating. Duke could leave coal ash where it is, threatening groundwater, presumably forever. The best way to eliminate the future risk and liability from coal ash pollution is for Duke to stop burning coal and transition to clean energy solutions as soon as possible.

Duke’s coal ash pits are still subject to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent coal ash and effluent limitation rules as well as the Clean Water Act, but CAMA’s rating process is an opportunity to secure more protective cleanup and management of Duke’s coal ash mess. It’s critically important for community members to send a clear message to DEQ that every coal ash pit is high risk and every community deserves clean drinking water and a healthy environment. Click the link to RSVP for a hearing near you!

What DEQ’s Risk Ratings Mean

Activists demand solar energy over coal and coal pollution at the 2015 Duke Shareholder Meeting

After the catastrophic Dan River coal ash spill in 2014, the NC General Assembly passed CAMA to establish a process for cleaning up coal ash throughout NC. Under CAMA, DEQ was required to issue draft ratings of “high,” “low,” or “intermediate” risk for all 32 coal ash pits at Duke’s 14 power plant sites across NC by December 31, 2015. These ratings will determine the scope and timeline for their cleanup. In order to arrive at these ratings, DEQ was required to consider several potential risks including public safety hazards posed by coal ash pits and current contamination or threats of contamination to surface and groundwater.

Closure requirements for coal ash pits at four of Duke’s sites were written into CAMA. Coal ash at Dan River, Riverbend, and Sutton will be fully excavated by August 1, 2019. Duke’s deadline for its Asheville facility was extended to 2022 in order to ease Duke’s planned retirement of the site’s coal boilers by 2019. Hearings for Duke’s Asheville, Dan River, Riverbend, and Sutton facilities occurred on March 1. SACE attended the DEQ hearing for Duke’s Asheville facility and listened to testimony from advocates, members of the community, a member of Asheville’s City Council, DEQ, and Duke. Duke is already actively excavating coal ash at all four sites. The process forward is more complicated for Duke’s 10 other sites.

Source: NCDEQ

In June 2015, Duke committed to clean up three sites: Cape Fear, Lee, and Weatherspoon. Ponds at these three sites are currently rated as “intermediate-risk,” meaning coal ash will need to be excavated, but the deadline is December 31, 2024. For coal ash pits rated as “low-risk” Duke must implement its closure plan by December 31, 2029 and will not be required to excavate coal ash.

DEQ failed to determine draft ratings for ash pits at six of Duke’s facilities by its December 31, 2015 deadline: Rogers (formerly Cliffside), Roxboro, Allen, Buck, Belews Creek, and Marshall. Instead, the agency rated coal ash pits at these sites as “low-to-intermediate.” Coal ash pits at these sites will eventually receive a rating of either “low” or “intermediate” risk. DEQ says that public comments will influence its decisions, and that even ratings of “intermediate” and “low” risk are subject to change based on public input. Click the link to RSVP for a hearing near you!

Coal Ash Details for “Low” and “Low-to-Intermediate” Sites
Click on the name of each site to review DEQ’s site risk assessment. Click on the estimated tonnage to view Duke’s annual inspection reports from which the tonnage data was gathered.

Rogers Energy Complex(formerly Cliffside)

Roxboro Power Station

Mayo Power Station

Allen Steam Station

Buck Steam Station

Belews Creek Steam Station

Marshall Steam Station

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