Duke Energy appeals judge's order in coal-ash pollution case

Posted by Craig Jarvis on April 3, 2014 

Coal Ash Spill

Duke Energy engineers and contractors survey the site of a coal ash spill at the Dan River Power Plant on Feb. 5 in Eden as state and federal environmental officials continued their investigations of the spill into the river.

GERRY BROOME — AP

Duke Energy on Thursday filed notice that it will appeal Wake Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway’s order of March 6 declaring that the utility could be required to immediately stop the source of its coal-ash pollution.

The judge ruled that the state erroneously applied a groundwater pollution rule when it didn’t require an immediate halt to the pollution. Duke asked the judge to delay his order until the company decided whether it would appeal, but Ridgeway denied that request.

Last year the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources sued Duke to enforce what it contends have been water pollution violations. Duke and DENR were headed toward a rapid settlement until the Feb. 2 Dan River spill brought the issue to public scrutiny and a federal criminal grand jury investigation.

DENR has withdrawn the settlement. Duke is asking the judge to prevent records that have been subpoenaed by the grand jury from being shared in the state civil court proceedings. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which has joined the lawsuits, opposes that request. A hearing is scheduled on those issues Friday.

Also Thursday, the N.C. Environmental Review Commission announced it has scheduled a special meeting on coal ash before the General Assembly convenes in May.

The meeting will be held April 22 in Raleigh. Members of the commission, who are legislators, will hear an update and talk about the Dan River spill and Duke Energy’s coal ash problem in general.

The commission’s three co-chairs – Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte, Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherfordton, and Sen. Brent Jackson of Autryville, all Republicans – said legislators will hear comprehensive updates on the Dan River cleanup and talk about what can be done to clean up and contain other coal ash storage sites around the state.

“We want members of the General Assembly and the public to be assured North Carolina’s drinking water is safe and see that proactive measures are being taken to ensure a spill doesn’t happen again,” they said in a joint statement.

Commissioners have discussed the possibility of drafting a bill imposing quicker public notification when there is a wastewater spill.

The Democratic caucus has proposed a comprehensive coal-ash bill that would force Duke to close and move all of its 33 coal ash ponds into safe, lined and dry storage away from rivers. Among other provisions, it would: require Duke pay all the cleanup costs without passing them along to ratepayers, establish standards for closing the ponds, increasing funding for state environmental regulators, and expanding the groundwater testing compliance boundary.

It would also direct the Environmental Review Commission to study the safety of using coal ash in construction sites, road beds, agricultural fields and manufactured products.

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