The Latest News On The Coal Ash Spill in Eden, NC

Coal ash is the waste that remains when coal is burned. It is usually collected in a dump, known as a pond. North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.

Many see potential complications because North Carolina's governor, Pat McCrory, worked for Duke Energy for 28 years.

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.

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.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory
wikipedia

Leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly violated the separation of powers among the three branches of government when they created three commissions in which lawmakers appoint the majority of the members, a judicial panel said on Monday. 

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance

    

This week, Duke Energy has paid $171 million to shareholders and the state of North Carolina.

The first bill was for $146 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed the company misled shareholders when it agreed to a merger with Progress Energy in 2012. The other $25 million was a fine from the state for spilling coal ash at a power plant in Wilmington.

Meanwhile, the conversation continues about how to dispose of the coal ash sitting at 14 sites across the state.

Guest host Phoebe Judge gets an update from WUNC environment reporter Dave DeWitt.

sutton power plant
Duke Energy

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has fined Duke Energy more than $25 million over coal ash leaks at a retired power plant in Wilmington. 

According to DENR, it’s the largest environmental fine in the state’s history – five times higher than any previous fine. It is punishment for coal ash leaching into the ground water at the Sutton Power Plant over several years.

Contaminants included arsenic, selenium, and boron. 

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