Public input is crucial in developing coal-ash plans

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 13, 2016

By Tom Reeder

For the Salisbury Post

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, recently released its draft proposed classifications for all 32 coal ash impoundments in the state. In accordance with state law, all coal ash impoundments must be put on a schedule for closure, with the most environmentally-threatening impoundments closing first. The classification process is an important step in cleaning up coal ash to protect the environment and ratepayers, and will determine the deadline for when each impoundment must be closed.

DEQ gave each impoundment a classification of high, intermediate, low, or low-to-intermediate based on the threat it presents to the environment and public health. The three main factors considered were dam safety, impacts to groundwater and impacts to surface water.

Duke Energy’s Buck Combined Cycle Station in Rowan County has three coal ash impoundments. The impoundments are classified as low-intermediate by DEQ in the draft proposed classifications. The impoundments were given a range because Duke did not provide sufficient information in a timely manner for DEQ to determine a specific priority level. DEQ will modify the draft classifications based on data submitted by Duke after its December deadline.

Coal ash ponds designated as high-risk must be excavated and closed by December 2019; intermediate-risk ponds must be excavated and closed by December 2024; and low-risk ponds must be closed by December 2029.

By the end of January, DEQ will release a comprehensive report that details the reasoning behind each classification, including the supporting scientific and technical data.

The draft proposed classifications we released on Dec. 31 initiate a robust public participation process that will help inform the department’s final proposed classifications. The department will hold a public meeting in each county where a coal ash facility is located and conduct a 60-day public comment period. Copies of the comprehensive classifications will be made available in each county with a coal ash facility, at the local health department and a local library.

Public input and involvement is a critically important part of the classification process. All draft proposed classifications are subject to change based on public comment, including consideration of scientific and technical data gained through the public input process.

Due to the work of the McCrory administration and the hard work of dedicated DEQ staff, North Carolina is well on its way to permanently eliminating the decades-old threat of improperly stored coal ash. DEQ’s draft classifications are the result of months of review of scientific information about each coal ash pond’s impact to the environment and public health. DEQ is committed to upholding the integrity of the coal ash law by making decisions based exclusively on science and public input.

The department encourages citizens to get involved in the public process. More information on the draft proposed classifications and the public hearings can be found at that department’s website, www.ncdenr.gov.

Tom Reeder is assistant secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

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