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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.

Duke Energy Must Eliminate Source Of Pollution At Coal Ash Ponds

Tom Augspurger (l), USFWS, taking core sample during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill.
Steve Alexander

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.

DJ Gerken is a Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. He says dealing with the source means removing coal ash: "This is a big engineering task, it's going to take time to implement. But surely what immediate means is that this cannot sit and wait and study a problem we have already diagnosed."

Today's ruling also indicates the state does have the authority to force Duke to deal with the source of contamination, something state regulators have denied having.

DENR has come under widespread scrutiny following a coal ash spill in Eden 32 days ago. Environmentalists claim the agency is too cozy with Duke. Federal prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into DENR and Duke's relationship.

>>Browse all of our recent stories about he coal ash disaster.

Listen to reporter Jeff Tiberii talk with WUNC's Frank Stasio earlier today, shortly before the ruling came down:

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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