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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Guest - Introduction to Coal Ash in NC

Guest

Introduction to Coal Ash in NC

North Carolina’s leading environmental agency has devoted significant resources to address coal ash since Governor Pat McCrory took office, an effort that intensified greatly in response to the ash spill at a Duke Energy facility in Eden in 2014.

DENR filed four lawsuits in 2013 alleging violations of state law regarding unlawful discharges and groundwater contamination at all 14 Duke Energy facilities. In 2014, structural issues came to the fore when an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River in Eden after a stormwater pipe beneath an ash pond at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station ruptured Feb. 2. The pipe was sealed later in the month.

Addressing coal ash at facilities across North Carolina

  • A major thrust of DENR’s work gathered comprehensive data about coal ash facilities statewide. The information has been essential in DENR's prioritization of closure plans for all 14 facilities with coal ash storage ponds.
  • Duke Energy must provide state officials with environmental assessments as part of Governor McCrory’s Executive Order 62 on coal ash and the Coal Ash Management Act.
  • Public and private drinking water wells within 1,500 feet of each facility are being evaluated for numerous constituents that could indicate the presence of any contamination associated with coal ash.
  • DENR is evaluating the utility’s existing wastewater discharge permits, as well as reviewing wastewater permit renewals and stormwater permit applications for the coal ash facilities. The stormwater and wastewater permits are subject to public comment periods that will include public hearings.
  • Staff with the department’s dam safety program inspected all 32 coal ash impoundments and reviewed video of the piping systems at each facility. The state program identified 63 areas of concern at 30 coal ash impoundments and directed Duke to provide repair plans. The department received all 63 plans and has reviewed and approved nearly half of them

Closing the coal ash impoundments

  • The Coal Ash Management Act puts Duke Energy on a timetable to close all its coal ash ponds.
  • Activity started quickly to reuse coal ash currently stored at several Duke Energy plants.
  • The status and public opportunity to provide feedback on the drafts of the modified mining permits and structural fill permits can be found on the Moving Forward page
  • The utility has also announced plans to reuse some coal ash at its Asheville Power Plant at an existing lined structural fill project at the Asheville Regional Airport and to transport some of the coal ash from the Dan River facility to an existing lined landfill in Jetersville, Va.

Restoring natural resources impacted by the Dan River spill

  • DENR and other natural resource trustees entered into a cooperative Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process with Duke Energy, the party responsible for the spill. The process aims to restore natural resources and the services they provide. To meet this goal, the trustees recover funds via restoration projects. 

Enforcement actions

  • DENR announced a partnership with the EPA in which both agencies are working together on enforcement action for environmental violations associated with coal ash facilities and to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act at all Duke Energy’s coal-fired facilities.
  • DENR also continues to pursue lawsuits the agency filed against Duke Energy in 2013 before the spill. The lawsuits were filed based on Clean Water Act violations at all the utility’s plants with coal ash storage facilities.
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Coal Ash Regulation: Water/Land/Waste/Air

Water

  • North Carolina has 14 coal-fired power plants regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which governs wastewater discharges to surface waters.
  • The N.C. Division of Water Resources handles all permitting under the National Pollutant Discharge System, or NPDES, permit program. The state agency regulates technology- and water quality-based effluent limits, compliance with groundwater standards for activities associated with the ash ponds and stormwater associated with industrial activities. The NPDES permit includes language regarding ash pond structures, but the responsibility for inspecting ash pond integrity falls under the jurisdiction of the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources. More on this topic is discussed under “Land” below.
  • The N.C. Division of Water Resources also regulates the reuse of coal ash – or coal combustion residuals - for concrete, brick, cover for landfills, overlay for roads and driveways, material for traction on roads during snow or ice events and a host of other beneficial uses.

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