North Carolina might finally crack down on Duke Energy after disastrous coal ash spill

“As a state we will not stand by while coal ash ponds remain a danger," said Gov. Pat McCrory

By Lindsay Abrams

Published February 26, 2014 5:50PM (EST)

Regulators in North Carolina are finally ready to force Duke Energy to move its thousands of gallons of toxic coal ash away from major waterways, the state's Department of Environmental and Natural Resources announced Tuesday.

The sad irony is that it took them them this long. Environmentalists and regulators spent years warning that Duke Energy's coal ash storage strategy was a recipe for disaster. Earlier this month, a pond -- one of 31 that Duke maintains on the shores of North Carolina's waterways -- dumped 30,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Investigators discovered a second leak, this one containing arsenic, last week.

Duke Energy's response has been to say, hey, at least the drinking water's still safe. Meanwhile, an entire river has been nearly destroyed, with residents being warned to stay away from the fish and avoid any contact with the water, where dangerous levels of arsenic and lead have been detected.

Now that the spills themselves have been stopped, Tom Reeder, director of the regulator's Division of Water Resources said, they can focus on preventing something like this from happening again. "Based on our investigation of this spill, one option under consideration right now is to eliminate all coal ash waste discharges coming from this facility and require that Duke Energy move the coal ash waste stored onsite to a lined landfill away from any waterways," he explained in a statement.

In a separate statement, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory told the company that he wants their ponds moved far, far away, writing in a letter to Duke CEO Lynn Good that “as a state we will not stand by while coal ash ponds remain a danger due to their proximity to where so many North Carolinians get their drinking water.”

Environmentalists, though, warn that neither McCrory nor the DENR has yet to take definitive action. “I think it’s good the governor is reacting finally and is communicating with the CEO of Duke Energy, but given everything that’s happened, actions speak louder than words,” Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the Charlotte Observer. “He says they’re not going to stand for it anymore, but if you’re not going to stand for it anymore, clean up the mess.”

Lindsay Abrams

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Coal Ash Spill Coal Industry Duke Energy North Carolina Water Safety