Internal emails released this week reveal that officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have been concerned about coal ash ponds at Duke Energy sites for years.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) obtained the documents as part of its effort to close coal ash ponds throughout the state. The roughly 400 pages of emails reveal employees at the state agency were concerned about storm water runoff at six sites owned by Duke Energy.
Testing performed by DENR employees showed mercury runoff from coal ash at one location and bromide contamination at another. DENR Engineers raised questions about runoff, but ultimately the agency did not require permits for storm water pipes.
One of the pipes without a permit ruptured last month sending at least 30-thousand tons of potentially toxic coal ash into the Dan River.
"So had the state done its job back in October of 2013, this problem might have been uncovered and we might never have had this catastrophe," said Frank Holleman, senior attorney the SELC.
DENR says Duke never applied for storm water permits and the responsibility is on the Utility.
Holleman notes that 31 days after the spill there has been no movement on cleaning up coal ash at 13 other Duke sites.
The coal ash spill has led to a federal criminal investigation and was the third largest in U.S. history.
Meanwhile the CEO of Duke has responded to a letter from Governor Pat McCrory. Lynn Good says the company is looking an short-term and long-term plans for what to do with millions of tons of coal ash stored in unlined lagoons around the state.
Duke will announce its plans by March 15th.