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.

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

In retrospect, running a storm pipe under an unlined coal ash pit was a bad idea. One year ago today, such a pipe under such a pit leaked 39,000 tons of toxic ash into the Dan River.

A week after the spill, Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks all but admitted the design was flawed.

“It was not a design that we placed in our other plants, certainly, and it was not the original design of the plant,” he said then. “So it’s something we’ll have to look at in our investigation.”

Dave DeWitt

For a century, utility companies in North Carolina simply dumped coal ash in nearby pits and ponds. But within the last several decades, other states have found uses for coal ash in construction and road-building, limiting the amount that makes it into the landfills.

During its second full meeting Wednesday, the Coal Ash Management Commission heard the many ways states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and South Carolina are reusing coal ash.

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

Coal ash and fracking will dominate the environmental headlines this year. But the story will be different in the Legislature, where as much news will be made by what’s not discussed as by what is.

Some observers believe that the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard that has been such a contentious issue in years past may not come up at all this session. It requires utility companies to generate 12.5 percent of its electricity using renewables by 2021.

The REP Standard first passed in 2007 and sustained a Republican challenge in 2013.

US Fish and Wildlife Service responds to coal ash spill on Dan River

The Environmental Protection Agency came out today with its first-ever regulations for coal ash.

The new rules treat coal ash like regular household garbage, instead of hazardous waste, as many environmental groups wanted. The EPA said the record did not support a hazardous-waste classification.

Coal ash is the byproduct when coal is burned for electricity. It contains arsenic, selenium, and other materials that can be harmful to humans.

coal ash
Dave DeWitt

Last night, Duke Energy employees hadn’t yet set up all their tables along the walls of the first-floor hallway of the Lee County Arts and Community Center when Mark Coggins walked in.

And he was here for one reason.

“To see if we can stop the coal ash from coming to Lee County,” Coggins said.

A lifelong resident of Sanford, Coggins is not what you’d call open-minded on the issue.

coal ash
Steve Alexander, USFWS

Politicians, regulators, engineers, and commissions are trying to decide what to do with the 100-million tons of coal ash in 32 pits and ponds across North Carolina.

Before a broken storm pipe caused 33,000 tons of coal ash to spill into the Dan River back in February, most people had never heard of it.

So what is coal ash? How dangerous is it? And what are we going to do with it?

Question #1: What is coal ash?

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

Duke Energy’s plan to dispose of coal ash in abandoned clay mines in two North Carolina counties may hit a snag.

If coal waste was trash from your kitchen trash can, and ended up in a private landfill, the owners of that landfill would be required to pay a host fee of $2 per ton of trash.

Duke Energy’s plan to dispose of 20 million tons of coal ash in abandoned clay mines in Lee and Chatham counties should come under the same rules, say officials in Lee County.

Pat McCrory
Dave DeWitt

Governor Pat McCrory has filed a suit against House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger, saying he's trying to stop them from usurping executive powers.

The lawsuit, filed in Wake County Superior Court, alleges violations of the separation of powers, executive power, and appointments provisions of the state Constitution, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. Former governors Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin, a Republican, joined McCrory in the filing.

Dave DeWitt

The North Carolina Coal Ash Commission has begun the process of creating rules and regulations to manage the cleanup of Duke Energy’s 32 coal ash ponds.

The Commission has a huge job. Among other things, Commission Chair Michael Jacobs made it clear that cost will be a consideration.

“To the extent that cleanup costs are passed on to the residents and businesses of North Carolina through higher power rates, everyone who uses power will share the expense,” Jacobs said.

Duke Energy has said it would cost $10 billion to move coal ash from all sites.

Craig Bromby
Hunton & Williams LLP

A lawyer advising North Carolina's environmental agency on rewriting clean-up rules for Duke Energy's coal ash dumps previously represented the electricity company on the same issue.

Craig Bromby was hired in June at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He retired in March as a partner at the Raleigh office of Hunton & Williams, where his corporate clients included Duke.