Coal Ash

The state epidemiologist in the division of public health resigned yesterday in protest over the McCrory administration’s handling of a controversy stemming from Duke Energy's handling of well water surrounding coal ash sites.

Image of bottled water provided by Duke Energy to families affected by the coal ash spill.
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

State toxicologist Ken Rudo testified that Governor Pat McCrory participated via phone in a meeting to draft letters to well owners downplaying the risk of coal ash contamination in their drinking water.

N.C. General Assembly, State Legislature
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Lawmakers adjourned for the year early Saturday morning following a short session at the General Assembly marked with limited acrimony, plenty of debate over House Bill 2 and the departure of several long-serving members.

Photo: North Carolina's Old State Capitol building.
Soggy6 / Flickr

Lawmakers convened in Raleigh nearly a month ago for a short session to address the state's budget. But legislators have proposed measures on other items including bills on coal ash, light rail and sanctuary cities.

Also this week, Senator Fletcher Hartsell, a Republican from Concord, was indicted on charges of illegal campaign expenditures. The long-serving member in the Senate says he will not resign.

coal ash
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Republican lawmakers and Governor Pat McCrory have reached a compromise over coal ash avoiding another round in the courts.

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance

State lawmakers are again wrangling with Governor Pat McCrory over coal ash cleanup.

The House has approved a bill reconstituting the coal ash management commission. Lawmakers organized this group once before. But McCrory sued fellow Republicans saying it usurped his power.

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance

Democrats in the state House and Senate want stricter regulations on vanadium and hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6.

coal ash
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

The Department of Environmental Quality has made significant changes to how Duke Energy may have to handle coal ash at its basins across the state.

DEQ released a final report that ranks all the state’s 33 coal ash basins by threat level. Unlike its previous draft report released last December, this one classifies all of the basins as either high or intermediate risk.

Tom Augspurger (l), USFWS, taking core sample during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill. (l-r) Tom Augsperger, USFWS, John Fridell, USFWS, Rick Smith, Duke Energy. Photo by Steve Alexander, USFWS..
Steve Alexander / USFWS

The state Department of Environmental Quality has issued a $6.6 million fine against Duke Energy for violations associated with the Dan River Coal Ash spill two years ago.

coal ash
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

February is a big month for Duke Energy to move coal ash out of its Dan River site.

With a new two-mile rail spur in place and machines moving material from large “ash stacks” – soil-covered mounds of coal ash - Duke Energy expects to double its current rate of progress.

Dan River
Steven Alexander, USFWS

An advisory board created by Duke Energy says nearly all of the company’s coal ash ponds in North Carolina can safely be capped in place.

The National Ash Management Advisory Board was created by Duke Energy a few months after the Dan River spill. It is made up of engineering faculty from across the country and executives from the private sector.

CAMC
Dave DeWitt

The North Carolina Supreme Court has sided with Governor Pat McCrory in a case against leaders in the General Assembly.

Image of bottled water provided by Duke Energy to families affected by the coal ash spill.
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Next month will mark two years since 40,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water flowed into Dan River as a result of a Duke Energy spill. The electric utility giant is working to clean up the coal ash at multiple sites across the state.

But legal infighting and regulatory delays have stalled progress at 10 of the 14 sites. Meanwhile some residents are afraid to drink out of their tap.

coal ash
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Duke Energy is the largest electric utility in the country, with nearly $25 billion in annual operating revenue. And on a cold, blustery day at its Dan River site, that corporate power is on display.

Massive machines–40-ton trucks, front-end-loaders, and bulldozers–are moving in perfect synchronization, loading coal ash and soil into rail cars.

“This is priority one for Duke Energy right now,” says Jeff Brooks, a Duke Energy spokesman. “This is the most important thing that many of us have worked on for several years now. We have an army of engineers and technical staff that have developed the closure plans for these sites.”

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality says Duke Energy will have to excavate most of its coal ash pits in North Carolina.

A new report says 20 pits have to be cleaned up rather than covered, but environmental groups think that number should be higher and point to an earlier draft report that identified 27 pits for excavation. 

Marshall Steam Station
Duke Energy

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has released more test results of water wells near three Duke Energy power plants.

Photo: North Carolina Supreme Court
Giant Sloth / Flickr

The North Carolina Supreme Court scrutinized arguments Tuesday in a case that could shift the balance of power between the state’s executive and legislative branches. Attorneys representing Gov. Pat McCrory and two former governors argued against state lawmakers appointing members to three environmental boards that perform administrative duties. 

Lee County coal ash
Dave DeWitt

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced today that it has approved the necessary permits to transform two abandoned clay mines into coal ash storage pits.

Duke Energy intends to ship coal ash from several of its facilities across the state to the Colon Mine Site in Lee County and the Brickhaven No. 2 Mine Tract “A” in Chatham County. It was awaiting the DENR permits before it began moving ash. The Lee and Chatham County facilities will be the first lined coal ash pits in the state.

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

Duke Energy Progress says it will convert another power plant from coal to natural gas.

Duke Energy's plans for the facility at Lake Julian in Asheville are another indication that the energy giant is increasingly relying on natural gas, in part because of its falling price. 

The utility calls the transition for Asheville a "win-win:" cleaner energy and more jobs. Environmentalists say natural gas has its own negative consequences.

Dan River
Steven Alexander, USFWS

In the fall of 2013, some Duke Energy middle managers had a choice to make. Follow the recommendation of an inspector and spend $5,000 on a video camera inspection of a stormwater pipe underneath its Dan River coal ash basin.

Or don’t.

Duke Energy, of course, chose the latter, figuring the pipes would be removed soon, so why waste the money?

A few months later, the corrugated middle-section of the pipe burst, sending 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river.

A view of Duke Energy's Marshall Steam Station from the public entrance off N.C. Highway 150.
Cdtew / Wikimedia Commons

State lawmakers recently negotiated a deal that originally would have weakened North Carolina's requirements for renewables as one source of the state's energy portfolio.

Instead, the House agreed to study the matter further. 

The deal is just one example of how policymakers are considering significant changes to North Carolina's energy policies, from coal ash regulations to environmental rules on new developments.

Duke Energy plant
Duke Energy

A few days after the General Assembly passed the Coal Ash Management Act last fall, Governor Pat McCrory recorded a video and made a claim many in his Republican party have since proudly repeated.

“This bill makes North Carolina the national leader in acknowledging and attacking the coal ash problem that has been building for more than half a century,” McCrory says in the video.

Acknowledging and attacking hasn’t, so far, led to any moving of coal ash. And as far as being a national leader, it’s actually one of our neighbors - South Carolina – that may lay a better claim, says Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

Some residents who live near coal ash sites owned by Duke Energy are being told not to drink or cook with water that comes from their wells.

Eighty-seven of the 117 letters (pdf) sent by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources so far have indicated that well water exceeded state groundwater standards for some toxic heavy metals.

Image of the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh, North Carolina
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Jmturner

State legislators have made headlines this week.

The House offered support for Governor McCrory’s economic incentives package while Senate leadership proposed their own plan. 

Legislators also offered measures to eliminate religious exemptions for student vaccinations and proposed legislation that would hinder citizens' abilities to fight large developments across the state. And a three-judge panel unanimously sided with Governor McCrory and two former governors in a lawsuit against the legislature on the appointments of three environmental commissions.

When utility companies burn coal to make electricity — and it generated 39 percent of U.S. energy in 2013 — it leaves behind ash that can contain arsenic, selenium, boron and many other toxic substances.

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