Coal Ash

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

  

It’s a new fiscal year as of Tuesday, but the legislature has yet to reach an agreement on budget adjustments. 

The House and Senate are still at odds over how to spend money on education and Medicaid. 

Lawmakers are also trying to sort out a coal ash regulation bill, public records rules for charter schools, and higher penalties for prison inmates who get a hold of cell phones.

Aerial photo: Duke Energy's coal burning facility near Salisbury, N.C.
Waterkeeper Alliance

Members of a North Carolina House of Representatives committee are expected to debate on Wednesday a new proposal to prevent contamination from 33 coal ash ponds Duke Energy owns across the state.

The proposal, which was released to members of the House environment committee on Tuesday, would move a commission overseeing the cleanup under the oversight of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (under a previous proposal, the commission would have been independent) and grants the governor authority to appoint the chair of the nine-person body.

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

North Carolina lawmakers say they want to break the impasse on a state budget this week. But those aren’t the only bills on their docket.

Leaders in the Senate and the House have been talking about Common Core and Coal Ash since they started meeting in May.

The Senate wants to consider keeping parts of Common Core, the national academic standards for public school students. The House wants to completely replace them.

Duke Energy's coal burning plant and the adjacent coal ash ponds by the Dan River.
Riverkeeper Foundation

The North Carolina Senate has tentatively approved a plan to close Duke Energy’s 33 coal ash ponds within 15 years.

The plan prioritizes four ponds that Republican lawmakers say are the biggest contamination threats. Duke would have to dig out all the ash and take it to dry storage.

Some Democrats want more ponds to be made high priority.

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance

  

The state Senate is pushing a proposal that would close all of Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds in North Carolina. 

The plan lays out a timeline for Duke Energy to close the ponds, adds more oversight positions, and puts some restrictions on rate increases. 

It is part of an ongoing discussion about new regulations for utilities that use the ponds since 39,000 tons of ash spilled into the Dan River earlier this year.

Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC capital reporter Jorge Valencia about the latest coal ash legislation.

Collapsed House Near Kingston Spill
Wikipedia

    

The coal ash spill in the Dan River earlier this year turned a public spotlight on the issue of coal ash disposal. The challenges around coal ash waste have existed in communities throughout the nation for decades.

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance

At the North Carolina General Assembly, key members of the Senate will take their first vote today on a coal ash proposal. Lawmakers have been grappling all year with possible contamination from 33 coal ash ponds Duke Energy has across the state.

The problem is not new. North Carolina has been accumulating coal ash for most of the past century. Power companies burn coal to generate electricity, cool off the remaining ash with water and then pour it into ponds and keep it there.

Photo: The North Carolina Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh
Jorge Valencia

North Carolina’s General Assembly leadership is expected to begin negotiations this week to reconcile two proposals for the state’s $21.1 billion budget, a legislation that touches many aspects of government, but has centered on how to give pay raises to public school teachers.

Photo: North Carolina's Old State Capitol building.
Soggy6 / Flickr

The North Carolina General Assembly is entering its fourth full week in session, and the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the central task of the season: the state’s budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance

Members of the North Carolina Senate took up the issue of coal ash clean up Thursday. They heard the first public presentation of how the governor wants to address possible contamination from coal ash ponds across the state.

But before we get into the governor’s plan, here's the story of Sherry Gobble and why coal ash might be a problem.

Triad News Update

May 20, 2014
The Dan River flows through Danville, VA 22 miles down stream from the site of a coal ash spill in Eden. Officials say treated water there remains safe to drink.
Jeff Tiberii

    

Two Republican lawmakers introduced a bill to the North Carolina Senate last week to cut back on the threat of coal ash pollution in North Carolina. 

The cleanup for the 2008 Tennessee coal ash disaster. Image taken March 2012.
Appalachian Voices / via Creative Commons/Flickr

The first piece of legislation leaders of the North Carolina Senate introduced in this summer’s legislative session looks at Duke Energy’s 33 coal ash ponds across the state.

That means that on Wednesday, their first day in session this year, the senate’s Republican leadership sent a clear signal that it’s a priority for them to resolve the state’s issue of toxic coal ash dumps. What they didn't send was a clear picture of how they want to resolve it.

The cleanup for the 2008 Tennessee coal ash disaster. Image taken March 2012.
Appalachian Voices / via Creative Commons/Flickr

Duke Energy’s North Carolina CEO told lawmakers this week that addressing the disposal of coal ash at the 33 ponds across this state could take years. He said the proposal to move the waste to lined sites could cost up to 10 billion dollars. Environmentalists say the issue must be addressed immediately. Host Frank Stasio talks with a journalist roundtable about the latest on coal ash, other environmental issues and Moogfest. 

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 told North Carolina law makers Tuesday that it would cost up to $10 billion and could take 30 years to remove all the company’s coal ash from areas near rivers and lakes across the state.  

In a hearing called specifically to address the coal ash basins, Duke’s North Carolina President Paul Newton told law makers the company needed flexibility to find faster and less costlier alternatives to ensure its ash won’t contaminate bodies of water.

A Marcellus Shale drill rig in Pennsylvania used in the fracking process.
Ken Skipper, USGS

    

    

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission has finalized their recommendations on fracking in the state to the General Assembly. Critics argue the commission needs more time as the health effects of fracking are unknown. In addition, the state commission tasked with deciding the methods of Jordan Lake clean-up remains undecided on next steps. And Governor McCrory proposes legislation to close or convert the state’s 33 coal ash ponds. 

SELC Logo
Southern Environmental Law Center

A North Carolina environmental agency is appealing a recent ruling that called for immediate action to stop groundwater contamination, caused by coal ash.

The Environmental Management Commission (EMC) is a state regulatory panel. Its members are currently appointed by three republican lawmakers. Two years ago the EMC said it didn't have the authority to force Duke Energy to clean up the causes of groundwater contamination at 14 sites around the state. Environmentalists filed a lawsuit, claiming the EMC wasn't properly reading or enforcing the law. State judge Paul Ridgeway agreed with that take last month, telling the agency it had authority to mandate that Duke deal with contaminants.

Now, that same agency is appealing the judge's ruling. 

"So the state is now on the same side of this appeal as Duke Energy, defending Duke against our effort to enforce the law against them," said DJ Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who called this appeal astonishing. 

Cattle
Wikipedia

   

Debate over the clean-up of the February coal ash spill that dumped nearly 39,000 tons of potentially toxic waste in the Dan River last February continues. The full effects on tourism and agriculture are not fully known and environmentalists continue to debate the best methods of clean-up. At the same time, a federal investigate examines the relationship between Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC's Greensboro Bureau chief Jeff Tiberii about the latest. 

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A federal criminal investigation is focusing on Duke Energy and a North Carolina state environmental agency. A couple of months ago, as you may recall, a storm water pipe ruptured and poured as much as 39,000 tons of potentially toxic carbon byproduct into the Dan River in North Carolina.

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Leaders of the Moral Monday movement focused on coal ash during a town hall meeting in Eden. The 'Moral Monday' event consisted of two panels of people to discuss the health, environmental and economic impacts of the coal ash spill that originated in Eden, near the Virginia border almost two months ago. As much as 39,000 tons of potentially toxic ash poured into the Dan River when a metal pipe running through a Duke Energy coal ash dump, ruptured. The ash has been found as far as 70 miles downstream. Some of the ash at the spill site in Eden has been removed by the utility.

Greensboro skyline
creative commons

  

 The Greensboro City Council approved a plan directing $65 million toward the development of a performing arts center in Greensboro. Similar venues in Durham and Charlotte have brought revenue and recognition to the cities. Greensboro leaders hope their investment will yield similar rewards. 

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have announced they are abandoning a proposed settlement with Duke Energy over the clean-up of coal ash. The proposed settlement would have levied Duke with a $99,000 fine, but had no requirement to remove or clean-up coal ash at two sites in the state. 

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland / Flickr / www.flickr.com/photos/zen/1796555301/

  

A federal grand jury has been impaneled to hear evidence about the relationship between Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). At the same time, that state agency is investigating the discharge of water by the utility at a site in Chatham County. Guest host Phoebe Judge talks with WUNC's Jeff Tiberii about the latest developments on The State of Things today.

First, the court proceedings:

The highly criticized relationship between Duke Energy and DENR is the focus of the federal investigation. The U.S. Attorney's office is demanding that Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources hand over records of wire transfers, receipts and any items of value that might have passed between the two.  Twenty current and former state employees have been called to testify before a grand jury about their relationship with Duke Energy. The company and state utility commission also received subpoenas. 

The Riverbend steam station along the Catawba River was retired in 2013.
coalashchronicles.tumblr.com

On Friday the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced it plans to modify Duke Energy water permit. Those water permits are administered by the state and adhere to federal guidelines for discharge. DENR says it plans to change permits so that Duke would be required to remove all coal ash from unlined pits at two plants - one along Lake Catawba near Charlotte, the other outside of Asheville. The changes would also call for Duke to dewater and close coal ash ponds at Lake Sutton (outside of Wilmington).

Tom Augspurger, USFWS, taking core sample as EPA's Alan Humphrey documents the ash bar during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill. Photo by Sara Ward, USFWS..
Sara Ward / USFWS

The CEO of Duke Energy sent a letter this week to Governor Pat McCrory and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) outlining the company's plans for coal ash clean-up in the state.

Duke says the letter is a big deal.

DENR described it as inadequate.

The cleanup for the 2008 Tennessee coal ash disaster. Image taken March 2012.
Appalachian Voices / via Creative Commons/Flickr

A group of elected Democrats will detail their plans for the clean-up of coal ash Thursday afternoon in Raleigh. Democrat Pricey Harrison of Guilford County has introduced legislation a half dozen times to require the clean up of the potentially toxic coal ash at 14 Duke Energy-owned sites around the state. Her efforts have never advanced through the legislature.

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

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.

Coal fired power plant
eutrophication&hypoxia via Flickr, Creative Commons

In the immediate aftermath of last month’s Duke Energy coal ash spill, concerns were raised about the existence of similar pipes at other ponds around the state. Yesterday, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, DENR, confirmed the presence of eight additional corrugated metal pipes at Duke Energy coal ash ponds. 

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

State regulators with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) say there are additional metal pipes at Duke Energy coal ash ponds that pose a threat. It was a metal corrugated storm water pipe running under a coal ash pond in Eden that ruptured 31 days ago, setting off the third largest spill of its kind in U-S history. DENR announced today that eight other metal pipes run through retention walls, around coal ash pits, but not under them. These eight serve a different function than the pipe that broke last month. The eight discharge pipes remove surface water from the top of the lagoons once coal ash has settled at the bottom. Duke has previously stated it was unaware of any other metal pipes at its 14 coal-fired power plants.

On February 2, between 50,000 and 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of ash pond water waste were released at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station (pictured above) north of Eden, N.C.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Internal emails released this week reveal that officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have been concerned about coal ash ponds at Duke Energy sites for years.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) obtained the documents as part of its effort to close coal ash ponds throughout the state. The roughly 400 pages of emails reveal employees at the state agency were concerned about storm water runoff at six sites owned by Duke Energy.

Diane Rehm
Glogau Photography

Did you miss it? The Diane Rehm Show devoted an episode earlier this week to the coal ash spill in Eden, NC.

(The spill was caused by a pipe failure at a Duke Energy location. Coal ash is leftover from the process of burning coal. The ash is considered toxic, and is held in ponds. This spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.)

This was an interesting part of the show, between Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Diane Rehm:

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