Deadlines released for coal ash pond closure by NCDEQ, Duke Energy responds

- The North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) has released deadlines for coal ash pond closures.

High risk ponds(8) must be dug up and closed by 2019 and intermediate ponds(25) must be dug up and closed by 2024.

NCDEQ said the main risk factor of today's classifications were dam deficiencies are currently being repaired and potential impacts to nearby groundwater.

“The focus of the coal ash law was to safely close all coal ash ponds in North Carolina,” continued Secretary van der Vaart. “The intent was not to set pond closure deadlines based on incomplete information. Making decisions based on incomplete information could lead to the expenditure of billions of dollars when spending millions now would provide equal or better protection. The understanding we have today reflects countless hours of scientific and technical work by both state engineers and Duke Energy as well as thousands of comments by the public.”

The classifications are based on the current risk of each pond’s impact on public health and the environment.  

“The deadlines in the coal ash law are too compressed to allow adequate repairs to be completed,” said Donald R. van der Vaart, secretary of the state environmental department. “It also does not allow for revisions to the classifications based on new information about a pond’s risk to public health and the environment.”

NCDEQ says the residents’ well water meets federal requirements for safe drinking water. However, Duke Energy has submitted a study that evaluates the feasibility of supplying permanent alternative water to nearby residents. The state environmental department will recommend to the General Assembly that the classifications be re-evaluated after the dam safety repairs are made and the utility provides these permanent alternative water sources to nearby well owners.

These proposed classifications will become final 60 days from today, according to NCDEQ.

Duke Energy made the following statement in response to NCDEQ's announcement:

Today’s announcement is an important milestone in the development of long-term closure solutions for coal ash basins, which store non-hazardous material. However and equally important, it acknowledges that work is incomplete and changes to the Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) are necessary in order to get to final recommendations.

If NCDEQ’s proposed recommendations are allowed to stand, without review and possible adjustments based on additional new information, the state will have chosen the most extreme closure option that will have a significant impact on customer costs and hinder economic development. In addition, it will cause decades of disruption to communities, all without additional, measurable environmental benefits. Given the scope of work, there is significant risk in meeting excavation deadlines by 2024.

We will seek to clarify CAMA within 60 days to help ensure the law is implemented in a way that makes North Carolina a thoughtful leader on this issue.

The data and assessments performed to date demonstrate that ash basins are operating safely and the environment is protected but, at NCDEQ’s request, the company is now conducting additional new research and completing facility improvement projects that we identified and pursued ourselves.

NCDEQ acknowledges that all basins except those already designated as “high” could be ranked “low” once that work is done and other steps are taken, including ensuring plant neighbors have the assurance of a high-quality water supply.

The facts, supported by the most robust scientific and engineering studies in North Carolina, demonstrate that ash basins are not impacting neighbor wells. We also recognize that for some, even that level of scientific rigor, may not provide sufficient assurance that their water is safe. We are exploring a range of options that give those neighbors peace of mind and will work with local communities and water utilities to begin addressing a myriad of questions on this issue. We believe all of our customers will benefit from this approach because it allows the company to pursue a range of closure options that are safe and cost effective.

“Low” rankings are supported by the science and engineering and provide a number of benefits to customers, communities and the environment, including:

  • Allowing a range of closure options to include capping the material on site with long-term monitoring, a faster solution that would not require hauling millions of tons of ash through communities to new locations for decades to come
  • Aligning North Carolina with other states in the Southeast and across the nation that are pursuing capping in place, which is recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as a safe and proven option, wherever possible
  • Promoting the growth of safe coal ash recycling in construction materials and other uses, the only way to avoid permanent storage of the material
  • Reducing total cost to customers when compared to excavation, which is more expensive without additional measurable environmental benefits

Decisions regarding basin rankings will impact our customers and communities for decades. We will continue to work constructively over the next 60 days on this important issue.


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