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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.

EPA Will Reconsider Coal Ash Safeguards

coal ash
Dave DeWitt

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will reconsider safeguards the Obama Administration put in place to regulate coal ash disposal.

“It is important that we give the existing rule a hard look and consider improvements that may help states tailor their permit programs to the needs of their states,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a letter on Thursday.

The EPA granted the petition made by Utility Solid Waste Activities Group and AES Puerto Rico LLP. The former is a lobbying group based in Washington that represents power companies, including Duke Energy.

The rules regulating coal ash storage were put into place by the Obama Administration in 2015 – a year after a coal ash spill occurred at Duke Energy’s Dan River Power Plant.

Duke Energy pled guilty to nine Clean Water Act crimes in 2015 for coal ash pollution violations at sites across North Carolina. The utility company paid $102 million in fines and is still on criminal probation. 

Environmental groups reacted strongly to the news that the EPA had granted the petitions to reconsider coal-ash storage rules.

“The polluters' petition puts families, entire communities and the utilities themselves at serious risk by seeking to continue utilities’ toxic legacy of coal ash pollution unchecked,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Coal ash is the waste product when coal is burned to make electricity. It can contain high levels of toxic heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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