Duke Energy told us their coal ash dumps were safe – they were wrong
by Brian Johnson
Duke Energy reported yesterday that coal ash pollution was spilling from its pond next to the Dan River Steam Station, located along the North Carolina/Virginia border. Coal ash typically contains toxic chemicals such as arsenic, lead and mercury. Up to 82,000 tons of coal ash and some 27 million gallons of coal ash-contaminated water have poured into the neighboring Dan River. The spill threatens communities that use the river for drinking water, and Duke still has yet to stop the leak.The spill is the second in the past month in which hazardous chemicals related to burning coal have threatened local drinking water. Freedom Industries spilled a chemical used to clean coal into the Elk River in West Virginia on Jan. 8, tainting the drinking water for 300,000 people there.
In light of the spill, Duke has professed its commitment to closing ash basins in a way that protects groundwater long-term and is prudent for customers and neighbors. But past words from Duke suggest that the company cant be trusted when it comes to coal ash. Here are four reasons why, quoting from a 2012 Duke op-ed.
Duke Fiction: Were accountableFact: At least 24 hours passed between the time Duke first reported the Dan River spill to state authorities and when the company announced the disaster to the public. Its unclear why they waited so long given the potential that peoples drinking water has been contaminated by toxic metals. Accountable? Just last year, Duke settled with NCs Department of Environment and Natural Resources over leaks from coal ash dumps near Charlotte and Asheville. Duke was fined for the contamination. The amount? $99,000. This for a company that reported $1 billion in profits last quarter.
Duke Fiction: Its regulated.
Fact: Coal ash has escaped regulation. Despite containing a host of toxic chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency does not recognize coal ash as a hazardous waste. The EPA said last week that it would issue the first federal rules to regulate coal ash as a hazard in December. Investigations revealed that trade groups such as the American Coal Ash Association (of which Duke is a member) had until recentlyghostwritten EPA rules and pressured EPA to delay its rulings.
North Carolina citizens arent protected under state law either. In 2012, a state commission ruled that Duke had not violated pollution standards at its coal ash dumps despite evidence of leaking. Active coal ash dumps are allowed to leak within 500 feet of their rims. Retired dumps dont even face that regulation.