NC: Duke Energy coal ash polluting water, fines may follow

Published March 5, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke Energy is violating North Carolina pollution laws because its coal ash pits are polluting nearby waterways, state environmental regulators said Friday. Fines are being considered.

The state Division of Water Resources sent letters to Duke, accusing the country's largest electric company of violating state law by allowing wastewater to leak from coal ash basins at 12 of the company's 14 current or former coal-burning power plants.

Wastewater is what leaks from coal ash ponds into nearby water bodies. Coal ash is the residue left after decades of burning coal to generate power. It contains toxic materials like arsenic and chromium.

Duke Energy, which serves much of west-central Florida, has 30 days to respond officially to regulators. It said in a statement Friday, "There is nothing new here" and work to shut down the ponds is under way.

Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Frank Holleman said his group has been telling Gov. Pat McCrory's environmental agency, the Department of Environmental Quality, about the illegal discharges for three years.

"It has taken DEQ three years to take this proposed action. But still, at many of these sites, DEQ is only proposing to issue fines," Holleman said. "Proposed fines will not do these communities or their rivers one bit of good."

The DEQ is holding hearings this month to get public input on proposed classifications for all 32 coal-ash pits at 14 plants that will set their clean-up schedule.