Coal Ash

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

  

A federal grand jury has been impaneled to hear evidence about the relationship between Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). At the same time, that state agency is investigating the discharge of water by the utility at a site in Chatham County. Guest host Phoebe Judge talks with WUNC's Jeff Tiberii about the latest developments on The State of Things today.

First, the court proceedings:

The highly criticized relationship between Duke Energy and DENR is the focus of the federal investigation. The U.S. Attorney's office is demanding that Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources hand over records of wire transfers, receipts and any items of value that might have passed between the two.  Twenty current and former state employees have been called to testify before a grand jury about their relationship with Duke Energy. The company and state utility commission also received subpoenas. 

The Riverbend steam station along the Catawba River was retired in 2013.
coalashchronicles.tumblr.com

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).

Tom Augspurger, USFWS, taking core sample as EPA's Alan Humphrey documents the ash bar during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill. Photo by Sara Ward, USFWS..
Sara Ward / USFWS

The CEO of Duke Energy sent a letter this week to Governor Pat McCrory and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) outlining the company's plans for coal ash clean-up in the state.

Duke says the letter is a big deal.

DENR described it as inadequate.

The cleanup for the 2008 Tennessee coal ash disaster. Image taken March 2012.
Appalachian Voices / via Creative Commons/Flickr

A group of elected Democrats will detail their plans for the clean-up of coal ash Thursday afternoon in Raleigh. Democrat Pricey Harrison of Guilford County has introduced legislation a half dozen times to require the clean up of the potentially toxic coal ash at 14 Duke Energy-owned sites around the state. Her efforts have never advanced through the legislature.

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

A state judge has ordered the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Duke Energy to take immediate action to stop groundwater contamination at Duke Energy plants.  

Today's decision stems from a lawsuit filed in 2012 by Environmentalists. Groups claimed that DENR was not doing an adequate job of enforcing state regulations regarding groundwater contamination. Superior Court judge Paul Ridgeway told DENR and Duke today they must take immediate action to stop the source of groundwater contamination at 14 sites with coal ash ponds.

Coal fired power plant
eutrophication&hypoxia via Flickr, Creative Commons

In the immediate aftermath of last month’s Duke Energy coal ash spill, concerns were raised about the existence of similar pipes at other ponds around the state. Yesterday, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, DENR, confirmed the presence of eight additional corrugated metal pipes at Duke Energy coal ash ponds. 

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

State regulators with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) say there are additional metal pipes at Duke Energy coal ash ponds that pose a threat. It was a metal corrugated storm water pipe running under a coal ash pond in Eden that ruptured 31 days ago, setting off the third largest spill of its kind in U-S history. DENR announced today that eight other metal pipes run through retention walls, around coal ash pits, but not under them. These eight serve a different function than the pipe that broke last month. The eight discharge pipes remove surface water from the top of the lagoons once coal ash has settled at the bottom. Duke has previously stated it was unaware of any other metal pipes at its 14 coal-fired power plants.

On February 2, between 50,000 and 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of ash pond water waste were released at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station (pictured above) north of Eden, N.C.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

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.

Diane Rehm
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:

The cleanup for the 2008 Tennessee coal ash disaster. Image taken March 2012.
Appalachian Voices / via Creative Commons/Flickr

At least 30,000 tons of coal ash poured through a broken Duke Energy stormwater pipe and into the Dan River earlier this month. The spill is the third largest of its kind in US history.

But that spill was much smaller than an accident in Tennessee six years ago.

It was the middle of the night, three days before Christmas in 2008 when part of a retention wall at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash pond ruptured.  A dike failed and millions of gallons of potentially toxic waste were unleashed.

Governor Pat McCrory
Hal Goodtree / Flickr Creative Commons

Governor Pat McCrory has sent a letter to Duke Energy’s CEO asking the company to remove coal ash from sites near waterways. In the letter McCrory says his administration has expressed its primary desire that coal ash ponds be moved away from waterways.

“This is a good development but we’re still dealing with words and not actions,” said Frank Holleman is senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.”

Wake Forest University graduate student Max Messinger shows the unmanned aerial vehicle he flew over the coal ash pond where a spill took place earlier this month. A group at WFU provided an independent estimate of how much coal ash spilled into the Dan R
Jeff Tiberii

Officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced Tuesday they might require Duke Energy to remove all coal ash at the site of a massive spill near the Virginia border.

DENR sent a letter to Duke this week, three weeks after the largest spill of its kind in U.S. history. In the letter the state agency informed the utility it’s considering changes to a permit that regulates how much pollutants the company can legally release into the river. The possible change does not apply to the company’s 29 other unlined coal ash ponds.

Sample screen of the Dan River coal ash spill timeline
NC Health News

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for energy. The ash, which is filled with toxins, is collected in ponds around the state. A pipe running under one of a ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, affecting the Dan River. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.

How much coal ash was disbursed into the Dan River?

Between 30,0000 tons and 39,000 tons

How much will it cost to clean up the ash per river mile?

1 million dollars per mile

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

  

This week, the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, DENR, is testing fish tissue in the Dan River for contamination from the Duke Energy coal ash spill earlier this month.  The Southern Environmental Law Center claims they warned Duke Energy and DENR of a potential spill last year. 

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

 

Earlier this month a stormwater pipe running under a coal ash pond in Eden ruptured. It did the following:

"Behold the frog that I am more worried than any other frog in any other place in the world."

Last night, Rachel Maddow began a segment on her MSNBC television program focusing on a little frog that can be seen in a pipe. (Officials have fed a camera into a pipe under a coal ash dump in Eden North Carolina to see if it was leaking.)

A federal investigation into Duke Energy’s coal ash spill expanded this week to include more employees of the state’s Department of Energy and Natural Resources. The agency’s head, Secretary John Skvarla, defended their work and their relationship with Duke Energy. Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC reporter Jeff Tiberii about the legal case and on-going debate about the clean-up.

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

Federal prosecutors have handed out more subpoenas in a criminal investigation stemming from the recent coal ash spill in Eden. The government is seeking documents from 20 current and former employees at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Prosecutors are also calling on those individuals to testify before a grand jury. The subpoenas seek records related to cash, items of value or investments that state employees might have received from Duke.

The Dan River flows through Danville, VA (cropped)
Jeff Tiberii

State officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have told Duke Energy to stop using a stormwater pipe running under a coal ash pond in Eden. (This is a different pipe than the one that ruptured 17 days ago, causing the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.) Following that spill at a retire coal fired power plant north of Greensboro, many environmentalists and media members questioned the durability of this second, smaller pipe. Duke has said repeatedly this pipe is structurally sound and water running through it, is clean. DENR tested some water and determined that not to be the case.

Duke Energy

On the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 3, a security guard at a Duke Energy plant near the North Carolina-Virginia border noticed the water level in a reservoir pond was dropping quickly.

He told facility managers, and what ensued was a chain of relayed messages: First to environmental professionals working for Duke; then local authorities in nearby Eden, N.C., Rockingham County, N.C., and Danville, Va.; the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management; and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The Dan River flows through Danville, VA (cropped)
Jeff Tiberii

The federal government has issued subpoenas to Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The U.S. Attorney is investigating a suspected felony. The subpoenas dated Monday seek a wide range of documents, reports and photographs related to the recent coal ash spill into the Dan River. It’s not clear what felony the federal government suspects Duke or DENR of having committed. A metal pipe beneath a coal ash pond ruptured 11 days ago, sending potentially toxic material into the river. 

The Dan River flows through Danville, VA (cropped)
Jeff Tiberii

More than 100 people filled the city hall chambers in Danville, Virginia last night. They heard from federal and state officials about clean-up efforts following a recent coal ash spill in Eden, NC. A pipe underneath a coal ash pond there ruptured ten days ago,

Riverbend Steam Station, a coal-fired generating facility in Gaston County, NC.  Riverbend will be retired by 2015 as part of Duke Energy’s strategy to modernize its power plants.
Duke Energy via Flickr, Creative Commons

Environmental groups are asking to take part in negotiations over how to clean-up contaminated ground water sites. The state Division of Environment and Natural Resources – DENR – is trying to reach a settlement with Duke Energy about how to clean up sites contaminated with coal ash, from power plants. Many conservationists don’t think DENR’s proposed settlements will go far enough – and have asked a judge for permission to join the state’s lawsuit as plaintiffs.

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

Duke Energy has reached a tentative settlement with state regulators regarding lawsuits over leaks from its coal ash ponds in Asheville and on the Catawba River.  The company has agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.  The consent order would require the company to determine the cause and the extent of those leaks into groundwater and into Mountain Island Lake, the source of Charlotte’s water supply.  Susan Massengale with the state division of water quality says the agreement lays out a timeline for Duke to do that.

Pages