Duke Energy to appeal NCDEQ’s order to remove coal ash from remaining unlined pits

Duke Energy to appeal NCDEQ’s order to remove coal ash from remaining unlined pits
In this Sept. 21, 2018, photo released by Duke Energy, the L.V. Sutton Plant near Wilmington, N.C., is inundated by flood waters from the nearby Cape Fear River, triggering a shutdown and the evacuation of employees. Floodwaters also breached a dam at the electricity generating plant on Friday and overtopped a coal ash dump, potentially spilling toxic materials into the river. (Source: (Duke Energy via AP)/Duke Energy)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Duke Energy is set to appeal an order by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality requiring excavation of coal ash basins at several facilities.

On April 1, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality ordered Duke Energy to remove coal ash out of unlined storage pits at facilities across the state, including several in the Charlotte area.

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.

“The order by the NCDEQ to excavate the final nine ash basins would impose a financial burden on our customers and the economy of the Carolinas through the most expensive and disruptive closure option possible, despite that these basins are rated ‘low risk’ by NCDEQ,” Duke Energy said in a statement Thursday.

“The process by which NCDEQ arrived at its decision lacked full consideration of the science and engineering, and we will provide those details when we file an appeal before the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings in the near future,” Duke Energy’s statement continued. We have made tremendous progress in safely and permanently closing ash basins around the Carolinas, and we will continue that work as we resolve this issue."

RELATED: NCDEQ approves low-risk classification of seven coal ash impoundment facilities

The decision came after the company says they submitted a detailed scientific and engineering analyses for nine of the company’s 31 NC basins, n came after the company submitted to NCDEQ.

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.

Duke Energy was ordered to submit final excavations plans to DEQ by August 1. The plans were to 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 previous statement, 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.”

Related: Emails reveal Duke edited scientific reports on coal ash, coordinated with advisory board chair

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.

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.

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