Progress on Coal Ash in North Carolina
This week, an environmental victory was achieved in a North Carolina courtroom for people and wildlife that depend on clean water. This ruling from the North Carolina Superior Court obligates the largest utility in the country, Duke Energy, to better manage its coal ash and eliminate the source of groundwater contamination that is violating water quality standards at all 14 of its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.
Coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal for electricity, is regularly stored in unlined ponds that leach heavy metals into surrounding groundwater. On the heels of the third largest coal ash spill in history on the Dan River, the state environmental regulatory agency in North Carolina stated that it did not have the legal authority to require the clean-up of coal ash ponds. However, today’s ruling empowers the state to protect water for people and nature.
In 2013, American Rivers named the Catawba River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the threat that coal ash ponds pose to drinking water supplies. In the Catawba watershed, coal ash and scrubber residue has been dumped into 551 acres of ponds— all lacking liners to prevent groundwater contamination. These ponds are permitted to discharge— even into drinking water reservoirs— arsenic, selenium, and other carcinogens at concentrations that far exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Maximum Contaminant Levels for drinking water. Decades of unlimited coal ash pond discharges have caused extreme soil and water contamination in Catawba drinking water reservoirs.
Given the ruling today, the next action we want would be for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to require Duke Energy to remove contaminated material from their Riverbend site on the Catawba River and dispose of it at a lined, monitored storage site.
This is great news towards cleaning up the Catawba and other rivers throughout North Carolina plagued with coal ash contamination.
American Rivers congratulates the tireless efforts of our clean water loving partners, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Western North Carolina Alliance, and others, who lead this court battle. We hope this victory is the first of many to ensure another Dan River or Kingston coal ash spill never happens again.