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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.

NC Officials Reject New Legal Action Against Duke Energy Over Coal Ash Ponds

Photo: Duke Energy's coal-fired Buck Steam Station in Rowan County.
Duke Energy

Environmentalists say they plan to sue Duke Energy over coal ash pollution from power plants, after the state environmental agency said it does not plan to take new legal action against the utility company.

Lawyers at the Southern Environmental Law Center first said in early July that they wanted to file a lawsuit. They said Duke was violating the federal Clean Water Act at the Buck Plant in Rowan County, the Cape Fear Plant in Chatham County, and the H.F. Lee Plant in Wayne County.

'Since DENR will not enforce these laws, we will.' - SELC attorney Frank Holloman

"Since DENR will not enforce these laws, we will," SELC attorney Frank Holloman said Thursday in a statement.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources then had an opportunity to take its own action in order to avoid protracted litigation.

But DENR Deputy Secretary Donald van der Vaart said on Thursday that the state has already been diligent in addressing pollution at Duke Energy's 33 coal ash ponds. Since last year, the department has sued Duke four times and this week said it could start imposing fines.

'The agency has taken a more strident approach to address groundwater and coal ash contamination than any previous administration.' - DENR spokesman Drew Elliott

"The agency has taken a more strident approach to address groundwater and coal ash contamination than any previous administration" and took many of those actions before February this year, when 39,000 tons of ash spilled from a plant along the Dan River in Eden," DENR spokesman Drew Elliott said.

SELC lawyers say state officials wouldn't have taken those actions if the SELC hadn't threatened to sue first. They say they plan to file their suit next week.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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