In a blockbuster year-end announcement, the state of North Carolina, multiple citizen environmental groups, and Duke Energy said they have settled major litigation over Duke’s remaining coal ash pits. Under the deal, Duke will excavate 80 million tons of coal ash from unlined pits, and relocate it to on-site lined landfills.
The settlement covers all six Duke sites that remained in controversy between the state, Duke, and citizen groups over Duke’s attempt to use “cap in place” options for some of their unlined storage pits. Those sites are Allen, Belews Creek, Cliffside, Marshall, Mayo, and Roxboro. Together with previous orders, the new agreement means that Duke will excavate all remaining unlined coal ash pits from all 14 storage sites in North Carolina, and transfer it to more secure, lined landfills which are much less likely to leak and contaminate our drinking water.
“This agreement is the culmination of nine years of work by communities across North Carolina and puts in place the most extensive coal ash cleanup in the nation,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) which represents the community groups in court seeking coal ash cleanups in North Carolina. “With the agreements and court orders governing eight other coal ash sites, we now have in place a historic cleanup of coal ash lagoons to protect North Carolina’s clean water and families from coal ash pollution. North Carolina’s communities will be safer and North Carolina’s water will be cleaner than they have been in decades.”
In a news release, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said these agreements will produce “the largest coal ash cleanup in the nation’s history” and will result in “more [ash] excavation than in four neighboring states combined.”
“North Carolina’s communities have lived with the threat of coal ash pollution for too long. They can now be certain that the clean-up of the last coal ash impoundments in our state will begin this year,” said DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan. “We are holding Duke accountable and will continue to hold them accountable for their actions as we protect public health, the environment and our natural resources.”
This omnibus agreement is expected to wrap up disputes now pending in multiple forums, including the state Office of Administrative Hearings, a state Superior Court, and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. In addition to DEQ, the various citizen groups being represented by SELC in these contests include Cape Fear River Watch, the Neuse River Foundation, Sound Rivers, the Roanoke River Basin Association, the Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, and the State Conference of the NAACP.
In accordance with the agreement, Duke has submitted closure plans for the ash excavations. The public will have the opportunity to review and comment on the plans at public hearings to be held in February near each of the six sites covered by the new settlement.
More information, including a state map showing the sites’ locations, and a link to the text of the settlement agreement, can be found here.