DENR

Photo: Duke Energy's coal-fired Buck Steam Station in Rowan County.
Duke Energy

Environmentalists say they plan to sue Duke Energy over coal ash pollution from power plants, after the state environmental agency said it does not plan to take new legal action against the utility company.

Lawyers at the Southern Environmental Law Center first said in early July that they wanted to file a lawsuit. They said Duke was violating the federal Clean Water Act at the Buck Plant in Rowan County, the Cape Fear Plant in Chatham County, and the H.F. Lee Plant in Wayne County.

A reduction of emissions from coal-fired plants like this one have helped North Carolina meet federal air quality standards.
eutrophication&hypoxia / Flickr, Creative Commons

North Carolina is meeting a new national standard for reducing particle pollution. 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has notified Governor Pat McCrory that it will officially designate that the state is in compliance this coming December. 

State air quality experts say particle pollution can reach dangerous levels at any time during the year. 

A map of Duke Energy's 14 coal ash sites and their operational status in 14 energy plants across the state.
Duke Energy

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources plans to fine Duke Energy for groundwater contamination from two coal ash ponds near Wilmington.

State officials decided to fine Duke as they wait for the outcome of legal action against the utility company.

In lawsuits filed last summer, officials say Duke has illegally leaked toxic chemicals like thallium from coal ash ponds.

These are 33 basins across North Carolina full of ash left over from burning coal. Two of these basins are at the L.V. Sutton Electric Plant in New Hanover County.

A Marcellus Shale drill rig in Pennsylvania used in the fracking process.
Ken Skipper, USGS

State officials are holding a hearing in Sanford today on proposed rules for hydraulic fracturing. Hundreds are expected to attend.

Fracking is a form of shale gas extraction, and it's controversial, among other things, because of it's a serious contamination threat to drinking water.

So as the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission shares its proposed rules for the industry, many people are interested. Earlier this week, hundreds packed an auditorium at N-C State in Raleigh.

 A beach swimmer on the Carolina coast. Officials warn of strong rip tide currents.
Billy Hathorn, Creative Commons

State officials want to hear from the public as they review an upcoming seismic testing project off the coast of North Carolina. 

The National Science Foundation plans to survey the sea floor this fall near several Atlantic states.  Scientists say they want to know more about how our continental crust shifted and stretched. 

They will use up to 36 seismic air guns, which release highly pressurized blasts of air.  Environmentalists have said that will injure marine life and could disrupt migration patterns. 

A Marcellus Shale drill rig in Pennsylvania used in the fracking process.
Ken Skipper, USGS

    

    

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission has finalized their recommendations on fracking in the state to the General Assembly. Critics argue the commission needs more time as the health effects of fracking are unknown. In addition, the state commission tasked with deciding the methods of Jordan Lake clean-up remains undecided on next steps. And Governor McCrory proposes legislation to close or convert the state’s 33 coal ash ponds. 

SELC Logo
Southern Environmental Law Center

A North Carolina environmental agency is appealing a recent ruling that called for immediate action to stop groundwater contamination, caused by coal ash.

The Environmental Management Commission (EMC) is a state regulatory panel. Its members are currently appointed by three republican lawmakers. Two years ago the EMC said it didn't have the authority to force Duke Energy to clean up the causes of groundwater contamination at 14 sites around the state. Environmentalists filed a lawsuit, claiming the EMC wasn't properly reading or enforcing the law. State judge Paul Ridgeway agreed with that take last month, telling the agency it had authority to mandate that Duke deal with contaminants.

Now, that same agency is appealing the judge's ruling. 

"So the state is now on the same side of this appeal as Duke Energy, defending Duke against our effort to enforce the law against them," said DJ Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who called this appeal astonishing. 

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

Leaders of the Moral Monday movement focused on coal ash during a town hall meeting in Eden. The 'Moral Monday' event consisted of two panels of people to discuss the health, environmental and economic impacts of the coal ash spill that originated in Eden, near the Virginia border almost two months ago. As much as 39,000 tons of potentially toxic ash poured into the Dan River when a metal pipe running through a Duke Energy coal ash dump, ruptured. The ash has been found as far as 70 miles downstream. Some of the ash at the spill site in Eden has been removed by the utility.

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

Officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have announced they are abandoning a proposed settlement with Duke Energy over the clean-up of coal ash. The proposed settlement would have levied Duke with a $99,000 fine, but had no requirement to remove or clean-up coal ash at two sites in the state. 

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. 

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