Regarding the July 17 news item “McCrory signs compromise for Duke coal ash cleanup”: North Carolina has become a national leader since 2013 in addressing the long-ignored threat of coal ash. The law signed by Gov. Pat McCrory goes even further to protect the state from a problem that has existed for decades.
The new law provides people who live near coal-ash facilities with certainty that they will receive permanent alternate water supplies. It establishes firm deadlines for providing water connections, requires that all dam repairs are fully completed, mandates that coal ash be processed for recycling and allows for cost-effective solutions for closing ponds when certain conditions are met.
The EPA’s regulations do not require excavation as part of the cleanup and closure process. North Carolina is going beyond federal law by requiring at least half of all facilities to be excavated.
Only if Duke Energy proves to our department that it installed water supplies and made necessary repairs to its dams can certain coal ash ponds be closed under federal regulations, which could include capping in place.
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Cap-in-place requires coal-ash ponds to be safely drained and covered with a waterproof liner, with nearby groundwater monitored for at least 30 years. The cap-in-place option minimizes effects to electricity rates.
When we reflect on this administration’s leadership in cleaning up coal ash, it’s important to understand how we got here. For many years, North Carolina regulators ignored the dangers of coal ash.
In 2007, a previous administration changed landfill laws and specifically exempted coal-ash ponds from many environmental requirements. A massive spill in Tennessee was 100 times larger than the Dan River spill and should have been a wake-up call for North Carolina. Instead, in 2009, the state exempted Duke Energy from having to show that its coal-ash ponds were structurally sound. If that information had been required, the corroded pipe under the Dan River coal ash pond might have been found and the spill avoided.
In 2010 federal regulators required leaks from all coal ash ponds to be evaluated. No action was taken in North Carolina for three years. In 2011 the state gave Duke Energy approval to use Sutton lake, a recreational area in Wilmington, as a dumping ground for coal ash. But the most inexcusable example is how the state failed to deal with groundwater under coal ash ponds.
For many years Duke Energy monitored the water under its ponds and found hundreds of samples that did not meet groundwater standards. Again, no action was taken. In fact, the prior administration created a policy instructing regulators not to fine Duke if the company said it would correct the problem.
Previous administrations ignored obvious warning signs and chose to protect Duke Energy instead of residents and the environment. In contrast, the McCrory administration is committed to holding Duke accountable.
Assistant secretary for the environment, N.C. Department of Environmental Quality
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the law.