While old-fashioned romance might go over well with your sweetie this Valentine’s day, old-fashioned coal ash dumps scattered across the Southeast need to go. The recent Dan River coal ash spill once again proved that leaving millions of gallons of toxic waste in unlined pits next to our rivers, lakes and streams is no way to show love for the precious water resources we all depend on.
Six days after it started, Duke Energy finally stopped the flow of toxic coal ash to the Dan River. Their temporary fix plugged the leaking pipe and redirects ash and wastewater from the river, though a permanent fix has yet to be found and the Waterkeeper Alliance has identified other leaks onsite. In the aftermath of the nation’s 3rd largest coal ash disaster, the State of North Carolina has quickly been outed for their cozy relationship with Duke Energy, their shortcomings resulting in and reacting to this spill.
Consistent national attention and local outrage about this disaster led to multiple developments this week including a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney General’s office investigating criminal negligence in the creation and handling of this epic event. Additionally, NC DENR has now asked a state judge to put a hold to their “sweetheart” settlement with Duke Energy and create a task force to review the state’s coal ash facilities at all 14 of Duke Energy’s NC power plants. Every day there continue to be new developments with the spill, check out our dedicated page for the latest news and updates.
While we are glad to see some responsiveness from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the state legislators for holding a hearing Feb. 17, 2014, much more is needed to protect our waterways and communities. It is sad and shocking that the State’s response is to conduct further study when DENR has years of data showing Duke’s illegal pollution and has brought enforcement actions saying under oath that Duke’s pollution a serious threat to the public and clean water. The agency should be enforcing the law and requiring Duke to clean up their mess, not forming a study committee.
What is most appalling is that even though North Carolina’s own testing shows dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals in the Dan River, neither the state nor Duke Energy has yet to commit to sufficient action to make sure this never happens again.
Continuing a legacy of inaction on coal ash, EPA has failed to respond to the Dan River spill with any definitive action preventing future pollution (or even write a press release). The agency is conducting testing and providing technical assistance to Duke and DENR but has not made any announcement on how the spill impacts a pending coal ash rule which will be finalized almost six years after the Kingston coal ash disaster and only after legal action forced finalization. Sadly, news reports indicate EPA will finalize a weak coal ash rule under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which would have no requirements for utilities to properly close and remediate retired impoundments like the one at Dan River.
Earlier this week, SACE and other conservation groups sent a letter to Governor McCrory asking him to take real action and and require Duke to remove all their coal ash from old, unlined, leaking impoundments to safe, lined landfills away from rivers. Just across the state line in South Carolina, two utilities have already committed to do the same — now that is sweet!
Duke Energy now claims that the amount of coal ash spilled into the Dan River is much lower than originally thought, estimating the total to be around 140,000 tons of ash and contaminated wastewater as opposed to the originally released numbers, which totaled nearly 200,000 tons. The new figure has yet to be verified by state officials, but whatever the actual amount Duke Energy has dumped into the Dan River due to its reckless way of storing coal ash, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has advised people to avoid any physical contact with or eat fish from the river.
The Dan River spill was a result of Duke Energy’s faulty coal ash management and maintenance and is unfortunately indicative of coal ash problems across the Southeast at facilities owned by other utility companies. Duke is the nation’s largest and most profitable utility, with the most resources to prevent coal ash spills. If impoundment failures are happening at Duke’s sites, they will happen at other utilities’ sites and we need to protect our rivers and drinking water from coal ash pollution.
Join us today in calling on North Carolina’s decision makers and EPA to immediately start protecting the public, stop complicit sweetheart deals that protect the industry, and prevent the next coal ash disaster.