Writer questions coal ash storage

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To the editor:

In Mike Hughes’ letter on Saturday (“Paying for Coal Ash,” April 20), the company denies it took risks storing ash in unlined pits across North Carolina. Not true. Before the Dan River coal ash spill, Duke insisted its ash storage was safe and even refused to conduct an inspection its own employees were asking for. Today, Duke Energy is on nationwide criminal probation for its violations of the Clean Water Act across our state.

And when it comes to Person County’s water, Duke Energy has ignored the risks for decades. Even before Duke (then called CP&L) constructed the coal ash lagoon at Mayo back in the 1970s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned that the lagoon would cause “toxic concentrations” of heavy metals to leak into downstream waters. Duke had the capacity to dispose of its coal ash in a dry state, but it rejected EPA’s warning in order to save money.

In response, Duke Energy’s permit from the state required Duke to prevent the pollution. But Duke failed to do so. Its own reports document extensive, increasing coal ash pollution at Mayo, including on neighboring private property. Similarly, earlier this year Duke was forced to disclose groundwater contamination above federal standards at its site on Hyco Lake, including arsenic, lithium, molybdenum and selenium. The letter claims “water quality is within strict standards”—again, not true.

Speaking of risks, the writer also fails to mention that it stores millions of tons of coal ash in the floodplain of Hyco Lake, which DEQ cited as another key reason the ash must be cleaned up. No responsible company would propose leaving this ash in the floodplain forever, but that is what Duke wants to do to the community around Roxboro.

Not surprisingly, the claim that EPA has approved “cap-in-place” closure for Duke Energy’s sites in Person County is also not true. The ash at these sites sits deep in the groundwater behind dams, where it will remain saturated and will continue leaching out pollutants for decades if left in the lagoons and covered up. EPA’s coal ash rule has strict performance standards that prohibit that result.

Many thousands of North Carolinians have spoken up at public hearings and submitted written comments telling Duke Energy and DEQ they want the same cleanups in Person County and other North Carolina communities that Duke is already undertaking at eight other sites around the state, to protect the clean water we all depend on.

The scientists at DEQ have concluded that cleaning up these leaking, unlined coal ash basins is necessary to protect us. With other North Carolina communities – including Duke Energy’s hometown of Charlotte – already getting these cleanups, and Dominion Energy in Virginia and all the utilities in South Carolina already cleaning up their ash, this approach is clearly the right one. When will Duke finally recognize that Person County’s families deserve these same protections?

Frank S. Holleman III

Chapel Hill

Editor’s note: The writer is an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

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