CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has ordered Duke Energy to remove coal ash out of unlined storage pits at facilities across the state, including several in the Charlotte area. The announcement was made late Monday morning.
The coal ash is currently stored in unlined, leaking pits at six sites across the state. Activists and concerned residents previously called on Duke Energy to clean up the remaining coal ash from its remaining sites.
The six remaining sites include Allen Active and Retired Ash Basins, Belews Creek, Cliffside/Rogers Active and Unit 5 Ash Basins, Marshall, Mayo, Roxboro East and West Ash Basins. The sites span across seven counties including Catawba, Gaston, Cleveland and Rutherford.
In 2018, Duke Energy reached an agreement with North Carolina Environmental Management Commission to remove water from three coal ash ponds where multiple seeps had been identified. The company had also agreed to pay a fine.
After reviews and public listening sessions, officials say, NCDEQ determined excavation of the remaining sites was the only course of option to meet requirements of the Coal Ash Management Act and to protect public health.
“DEQ rigorously reviewed the proposals, and the science points us clearly to excavation as the only way to protect public health and the environment,” said DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan. “Today’s action sends another clear message that protecting public health and natural resources is a top priority of the Cooper Administration.”
Duke Energy must submit final excavations plans to DEQ by August 1. The company must propose where the coal ash will reside and provide an estimate of how long the process will take. DEQ will be required to reject any proposal that does not protect public health and the environment stated by law.
Duke Energy responded to the move by DEQ in a statement on Monday, which said the required closure of additional coal ash ponds would add billions of dollars in costs to the current closure project, which is already projected to be roughly $5 billion.
“Based on current estimates and closure timeframes, excavating these basins will add approximately $4 billion to $5 billion to the current estimate of $5.6 billion for the Carolinas,” Duke’s statement said. “We will carefully review today’s announcement and will continue to support solutions that protect our customers and the environment.”
The statement pointed to a series of scientific reports that the company funded showing the remaining pits could be closed without having to excavate the coal ash.
“With respect to the final six sites—which NCDEQ has ruled are low-risk—science and engineering support a variety of closure methods including capping in place and hybrid cap-in-place as appropriate solutions that all protect public health and the environment. These closure options are also consistent with how hundreds of other basins around the country are expected to be closed,” the company said.
The North Carolina Conservation Network released a statement about what they say is a major milestone.
“Thank you to Gov. Cooper and Sec. Regan for listening to the communities most impacted by Duke Energy’s poor management of coal ash,” said NC Conservation Network executive director Brian Buzby. “Excavating ash into less vulnerable spaces will protect North Carolina rivers and hopefully bring some peace to the families who have spent years fighting for their right to clean water. Five years have passed since the Dan River coal ash spill, and we have seen Virginia and South Carolina move toward cleaning up all coal ash in their states – so it is long overdue for Duke Energy to do the same here.”
According to Southern Environmental Law Center, North Carolina will join South Carolina and Virginia- two states that operate without coal ash pollution and the threat of coal ash influenced catastrophes.