Tom Reeder: Coal ash neighbors will get water

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2016

By Tom Reeder

Special to the Salisbury Post

After decades of neglect by previous administrations, North Carolina is finally on track to permanently solve the long-ignored coal ash problem. Recent media reports have overlooked updates to the coal ash law that speak directly to the concerns we’ve heard from residents near Duke Energy facilities. Most importantly, we have started the process of ensuring that permanent drinking water is provided to residents around coal ash facilities.

Last week the state environmental department sent letters to eligible well owners around Duke Energy’s Buck facility, notifying them that they will receive a permanent alternate source of drinking water. Under the new law, residents may be provided with a connection to public water supply or a full house filtration system. Additionally, the law forces Duke Energy to make all necessary structural repairs at every coal ash facility and will require nearly one million tons of coal ash to be recycled every year.

The law requires Duke Energy to submit plans for installing water supplies to all homes by December 2016. The plans will consider the location of households in relation to the nearest public water supply connection, the projected cost of the water supply option, and any proposal to connect to public water. The state environmental department will evaluate the plans over the following year in order to provide all households with a permanent water supply as quickly as possible. This is just one of the common-sense solutions supported by the McCrory administration that will help solve the decades-old coal ash problem.

In 2014, North Carolina became the only state to pass a coal ash law that requires the safe closure of every coal ash pond in the state. North Carolina is requiring Duke Energy to dig up coal ash ponds where needed and use more cost- effective, federally-approved solutions such as cap closure at the remaining sites. Cap closure involves removing water from coal ash ponds and installing a cap to prevent rainwater from getting in. Our neighboring state of Tennessee just received federal approvals for the cap-in-place closure method at six facilities.

In March 2016, the state environmental department held coal ash meetings in the communities around every Duke Energy facility. The issues that were most mentioned were the need for alternate drinking water supplies, dam safety repairs, excavation and recycling. All of these issues are now being addressed by the McCrory administration in a way that has made North Carolina a national leader in addressing the coal ash problem.

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