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Originally published: 2012-10-12 12:03:57
Last modified: 2012-10-12 12:03:57

Environmental groups take legal action against coal-powered plants

by Jeff Eason

Local conservationists said they took legal measures Wednesday to ensure that a disaster similar to the 2008 ash coal spill in Tennessee doesn’t happen in North Carolina.

Several conservation groups asked the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission to require Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas to clean up groundwater contaminated by older, unlined coal ash lagoons at 14 coal-fired power plants in the state.

Lawyer D.J. Gerken of the Southern Environmental Law Center filed the complaint at the NCEMC office in Raleigh on Wednesday on behalf of the Cape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club, Western North Carolina Alliance and Waterkeeper Alliance, including the Watauga Riverkeeper organization.

Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby was among those who led the groundwater testing.

“Years ago, I found 681 exceedances of the North Carolina groundwater standard for arsenic, boron, cadmium, chloride, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, pH, sulfate and total dissolved solids at ash ponds across North Carolina,” Lisenby said. “Levels of these pollutants were up to 380 times higher than the North Carolina groundwater standard.”

Lisenby said Duke and Progress “completely failed to take any meaningful steps to clean up their toxic water pollution.”

Coal ash waste ponds came to national attention on Dec. 22, 2008, when a dam burst at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant and spilled coal ash waste slurry into Emory River in Tennessee.

The sludge contained fly ash, a fine powdery material that could dry out and create toxic dust. The Environmental Protection Agency says fly ash dust can irritate the skin and aggravate pre-existing conditions, such as asthma.

At presstime, the N.C. Environmental Management Commission had not responded to an inquiry on this story.

Duke Energy issued a news release, saying it has not received documents related to the filing.

“Duke Energy and Progress Energy have been sampling groundwater around their ash basins for years, and all that data have been reported to state regulators along the way,” the news release said.
Duke Energy said it has invested millions of dollars converting to dry fly ash storage in lined landfills at nearly all of its large stations."

It said many smaller coal stations have closed or will close soon and the company “will work with state regulators to close the ash basins at those sites.”

“If our testing were to show any indication that neighbors’ groundwater was being impacted, we would work with state regulators to address and resolve the problem,” the company said.