The state’s environmental agency said Tuesday it intends to modify the permit that regulates Duke Energy’s retired coal-powered operation along the Dan River, possibly requiring the utility move its coal ash into a lined landfill.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has formally notified the utility that it will review the current discharge permit. By law, the state has to give Duke 60 days to respond to the decision to reopen the permit process.
On Saturday, Gov. Pat McCrory said he favored moving the coal ash from the Dan River plant to another location, and said state officials have already found a site. McCrory has said he favors requiring Duke to move the coal ash at all 14 of its sites into lined landfills.
The announcement is a sudden change of course by an agency that has been criticized for its oversight of the energy company’s coal ash plants around the state.
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DENR and Duke had worked out a proposed settlement that would have required the company pay a $99,000 fine and stop seepage and runoff of contaminated water into rivers. But the state withdrew that settlement after the Feb. 2 spill at Dan River, which sent tens of millions of gallons of ash and water into the river.
DENR has indicated it will decide by March 21 whether to seek a modification of that settlement, in advance of a hearing in superior court on the case on April 4.
The agency said it notified Duke on Monday that it would reopen its wastewater discharge permit to consider modifications. The current permit allows the company to discharge specific amounts of coal ash basin water in to the river.
Tom Reeder, director of the state Division of Water Resources, said one option is to eliminate all coal ash discharges and require the utility move the ash away from the river.
“We are taking swift and appropriate action to address a catastrophic failure at the Dan River power plant,” Reeder is quoted as saying in a news release DENR sent out.