On Friday the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced it plans to modify Duke Energy water permit. Those water permits are administered by the state and adhere to federal guidelines for discharge. DENR says it plans to change permits so that Duke would be required to remove all coal ash from unlined pits at two plants - one along Lake Catawba near Charlotte, the other outside of Asheville. The changes would also call for Duke to dewater and close coal ash ponds at Lake Sutton (outside of Wilmington).
"Reopening these permits allows DENR to ensure that Duke Energy resolves this long-standing issue at these facilities," said Secretary John Skvarla.
This latest development comes after Duke outlined plans for coal ash clean-up earlier this week - plans which Skvarla called inadequate.
"In a March 12 letter, Duke Energy responded to a demand for information from Gov. McCrory and me. Although Duke committed to near-term actions, the response lacked the detail necessary to ensure Duke Energy abides by the commitments outlined in their letter," said Skvarla.
Duke has 60 days to respond to the state's plans to modify the water permits.
Permit Modification Simply An Attempt to Slow Things Down?
"I think this is a concerning attempt to bypass the Court's order last week instructing DENR to take immediate action to eliminate the source of its contamination," said environmentalist DJ Gerken of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). He says Friday's news is just another attempt by the state agency to slow things down. Last week a state judge ruled that Duke must immediately stop the source of groundwater contamination.
"There is absolutely no good reason to address Duke's violations through the belabored process of an administrative permit - if DENR is serious about correcting pollution, it can enforce the law against Duke right now in the multiple cases pending in Superior Court," Gerken said.
A metal stormwater pipe running under a coal ash pit near the Virginia border ruptured in January, causing the third largest spill of its kind in US history. Following the spill more than 20 subpoenas were served as part of a federal criminal investigation of the relationship between DENR and Duke. Federal prosecutors are seeking information about a suspected felony.