Coal ash is a particularly sensitive topic in North Carolina — in 2014, 39,000 tons of the waste poured into the Dan River from a Duke coal ash facility. In 2015, the utility pled guilty in federal court to nine misdemeanors related to its handling of the toxic waste.
Since 2012, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and other environmental groups have been pushing the utility to commit to full excavation of its coal ash, spurred by smaller spills during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. Now, SELC has reached a settlement with the utility and state regulators, on behalf of 10 other environmental groups.
“We think this settlement achieves all the goals we’ve been pursuing for the last nine years to get this ash safely stored and to eliminate these other unlined pits of coal ash across North Carolina,” Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, told Utility Dive.
Increased pressure on the utility from local advocacy groups and years of town hall meetings finally led to the utility’s settlement, according to Holleman. Duke’s appeal to resist the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) order was partially rejected by a North Carolina judge in August, but the utility says it’s satisfied the current plan is what’s best for ratepayers and the environment.