Originally published March 24 2014
North Carolina considers forcing Duke to move leaky coal ash dumps farther from river
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) State regulatory officials in North Carolina may force a power company to move two leaky coal ash dumps, nearly a month after a large spill shrouded a 70-mile stretch of the Dan River with toxic gray waste.
The state's Department of Environmental and Natural Resources says it is planning to reopen Duke Energy's wastewater discharge permit and then consider making changes that would force the firm to remove its remaining coal ash from the leaky site at Eden, near the Virginia state line, to a lined, protected landfill away from the river, The Associated Press (AP) and other news organizations reported.
The department's statement, however, does not state whether changes are being considered for Duke's 13 other dumps throughout the state.
"We are taking swift and appropriate action to address a catastrophic failure at the Dan River power plant," Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, told AP. "Based on our investigation of this spill, one option under consideration right now is to eliminate all coal ash waste discharges coming from this facility and require that Duke Energy move the coal ash waste stored onsite to a lined landfill away from any waterways."
'We're taking another look at how we manage ash basins'
By law, the state natural resources department is required to give the company 60 days to respond to its decision to reopen the discharge permit.
"We will respond to the state and work to determine the most appropriate resolution," Duke spokeswoman Lisa Hoffmann told the newswire service. "As we have stated, we're taking another look at how we manage ash basins."
It would be the first time for N.C. regulators to require Duke to move its toxic waste away from rivers or lakes if regulators go through with forcing the company to move its coal ash pits in Eden.
The action, if it happens, has been years in the making. More from AP:
After regulators failed to act for years on evidence of groundwater contamination leeching from Duke's unlined ash dumps, a coalition of citizens groups tried in 2013 to use the U.S. Clean Water Act to sue Duke in federal court last year over the company's groundwater pollution.
The state agency then intervened three times to use its authority to issue violations and take the case to state court, where officials quickly negotiated a settlement that would have fined Duke $99,111 with no requirement that the $50 billion company actually clean up its pollution. The citizens groups opposed the deal, saying it shielded Duke from far harsher penalties it might have faced in federal court.
'Moving coal ash might do more harm than good'
Following an earlier AP report on the proposed settlement, state environmental regulators asked the court to put the deal on hold. Since then, federal prosecutors have opened up a criminal probe following the spill, having issued in excess of 20 subpoenas to Duke Energy and state regulatory officials.
In late February, Gov. Pat McCrory and the state's environmental secretary, John Skvarla, hinted that requiring Duke Energy to move its coal ash might actually do more harm than good. AP noted that McCrory worked at Duke for nearly 30 years before he ran for governor.
"Pressed by the AP and others, Skvarla's agency was unable to provide a single real-world example or academic study showing that the removal of toxic coal ash was harmful to the environment," the newswire reported.
Public health officials have advised local residents not to touch the river water or eat any of the fish.
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