Coal ash neighbors issue demands for state, Duke Energy

Published 12:05 am Thursday, January 7, 2016

North Carolinians living near coal ash facilities have joined the chorus of environmental groups unhappy with recent rankings of Duke Energy facilities across the state.

Formed last year, a group named ACT Against Coal Ash on Wednesday released a series of unifying principles, which include demands aimed at Duke and state government. The group describes itself as a “way for residents from across the state to connect in solidarity in their demands to end the coal ash crisis.” One of its demands is that all sites be classified as high priority.

“It’s an established fact that all sites are leaking, so of course they should be listed as high priority,” said Dukeville resident Deborah Graham, who lives near Buck Steam Station. “We know more than we ever wanted to know about the damage this toxic waste causes to our environment and health each and every day it continues to sit there.”

In its rankings, the Department of Environmental Quality placed Buck Steam station as low-to-intermediate priority because of a lack of information from Duke. Buck Steam Station’s ranking is a downgrade from a previous, high-priority classification, according to an internal document leaked in December.

The draft rankings for Buck Steam Station, however, could be raised once state officials start public hearings later this year in each county containing a coal ash pond. State officials also asked for follow-up information on power plants, including Buck, from Duke Energy.

ACT Against Coal Ash’s other demands include: Duke Energy taking responsibility for its contribution to harm caused by coal ash ponds; Duke shareholders foot the bill for safe drinking water near coal ash ponds; well water be tested regardless of its distance from coal ash ponds; state government requiring Duke to pay for independent oversight of coal ash cleanup. The group also calls on Duke Energy to store coal ash on its property rather than moving it to other communities. Capping coal ash ponds in place, however, isn’t an appropriate solution, the group says.

“At this point, Duke Energy and the state are thinking more about profit than the health and well-being of people that actually live in the communities next to Duke’s plants, said David Hairson, who lives near the Belews Creek power plant. “They need to come to the communities that are actually affected and see what the living situations are like.”

For neighbors of coal ash plants, their chance to speak directly with state officials about priority rankings will come before March 31, the last day for meetings to occur in each county. The Department of Environmental Quality will issue a final classification for each coal ash facility after the public meetings.

If moved up to a high-priority site, Buck Steam Station’s coal ash ponds would be required to be excavated and closed by 2019. With its current ranking, Buck wouldn’t be required to close until 2024, at the earliest. It’s also a candidate for either excavation or being capped in place with a low-to-intermediate priority.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.