By Laura Leslie
Raleigh, N.C. — Two environmental groups are warning state leaders against allowing Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash pits in North Carolina by shipping the ash to solid-waste landfills.
A report released Monday by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League says Duke should be required to store the ash safely at its own sites, using hazardous-waste storage technology approved by the U.S. Department of Energy.
BREDL Director Lou Zeller says the liners used in municipal waste sites are not truly leak-proof and won’t keep toxins in coal ash from leaching into nearby groundwater.
Zeller pointed to the example of Uniontown, Ala., a rural community where the Tennessee Valley Authority shipped the coal ash it removed after the Kingston, Tenn., spill in 2008. Alabama regulators agreed to allow the TVA to dispose of the ash in a large landfill there.
According to environmental groups and some local leaders, the coal ash is now causing health problems for Uniontown residents. A federal lawsuit invoking the Civil Rights Act – the town’s population is mainly black – is underway.
The group is recommending a type of storage known as “saltstone,” which involves storing waste above ground in huge concrete silos the size of a football field. Zeller says the units are modular, can be quickly built at power plant sites and are much safer than municipal landfills.
The environmental group NC WARN also took part in the news conference. Executive Director Jim Warren said Duke’s shareholders, not its customers, should shoulder the cost of the cleanup.
“Duke Energy’s executives made the decision to cut corners in dealing with this toxic waste all these years, and they’ve profited by it. And so, we cannot let this problem be dumped onto the ratepayers of North Carolina,” Warren said.
Warren also called for any cleanup deal between state and federal regulators and Duke to be a transparent and public process.
“The people that are most impacted need to have the guiding voice at the table,” Warren said. “They need to have the support of the governor, that he will not allow this resolution to go behind closed doors in any kind of way and see Duke Energy cutting deals with state regulators or with local officials.”