Environment
5:00 am
Sat March 1, 2014

NC Coal Ash Disaster Discussed On Diane Rehm Show

Diane Rehm
Credit Glogau Photography

Did you miss it? The Diane Rehm Show devoted an episode earlier this week to the coal ash spill in Eden, NC.

(The spill was caused by a pipe failure at a Duke Energy location. Coal ash is leftover from the process of burning coal. The ash is considered toxic, and is held in ponds. This spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.)

This was an interesting part of the show, between Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Diane Rehm:

REHM:
Tell me what the problem is at these coal ash ponds. I gather they're either unlined, and they are backed by some flimsy dikes. I gather that back in 2010, the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources tested the ground water near Duke Energy's ash ponds in 2010, and then you apparently sued Duke Energy. And the settlement was for about $100,000.

HOLLEMAN: Well, Diane, there are a lot of complicated issues in energy and environmental matters, but this one is not complicated. What Duke Energy does, believe it or not, is it stores coal ash, which contains toxic substances, including arsenic, in unlined holes in the ground next to rivers and drinking water reservoirs that are held back only by dikes made of earth that leak. There are three major utilities in the Carolinas, the two Carolinas.

Two of the three have agreed with us to empty out these outmoded ancient and leaking and illegally polluting lagoons and move their ash to safe, dry, lined landfills away from the waterways. Only Duke has not. And the state agency, which has done very little else, but it has confirmed under oath that at every site where Duke Energy stores coal ash in the state of North Carolina, Duke Energy is violating either the federal Clean Water Act, state clean water laws or both.

And they have known this for years and have, in fact, stated it on the record six months prior to this spill, yet neither Duke nor the state agency have done one thing to clean up any of the illegal pollution or move the coal ash to safe site. Diane, what we say is this. You and I are required to store our kitchen garbage in a way that is safer than the way Duke Energy is storing this coal ash. All we say...

REHM: All right. And I want you and our listeners to know we invited Duke Energy, the governor, Republican Pat McCrory, who, by the way, was an employee of Duke Energy for 28 years. We also invited the North Carolina Department of Environmental Regulation to participate in today's program, and all three declined.

However, Duke Energy gave us this statement. "We will do the right thing for the river and surrounding communities. We are accountable. Drinking water has remained safe. The pipe has been permanently plugged. We take responsibility for this event, and we're taking another look at the management of our ash basins."

>> Look through all of our most recent reports about the coal ash disaster.

Here's a link to the Diane Rehm show audio  and here's a  full transcript of the show.