by Billy Ball
The Southern Environmental Law Center and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources are not, it seems, on speaking terms.
SELC has led efforts for years now to force clean-up at Duke Energy's leaking coal ash sites across the state, frequently tangling with the state's top environmental agency along the way.
Based on a recent legal filing and the subsequent back-and-forth by both groups, it would seem that relationship has only grown more tortured.
To get to where we are, a brief history. The Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 denoted four of the utility giant's 14 leaking coal ash lagoons as the highest priority for clean-up. Clean-up of the remaining 10 would be set following a public comment and study period.
Today, SELC and Duke are teaming up to request that a Superior Court judge order three additional facilities—H.F. Lee in Goldsboro, Cape Fear Steam Station in Moncure and Weatherspoon Steam Station in Lumberton—be added to that priority list. DENR wants the judge to deny that request.
Frank Holleman, senior attorney at SELC, said last week that both his organization and Duke believe these facilities must be cleaned "for reasons of safety and to stop coal ash pollution."
"DENR has become a bureaucracy that puts its bureaucratic turf issues ahead of its mission to protect North Carolina’s communities and clean water," Holleman said Tuesday.
DENR, however, says the move would circumvent the public rule-making process designated by the state's coal ash law.
"The seemingly cozy relationship between Duke Energy and the SELC takes away the voice of the citizens who have to live with Duke Energy’s decisions long after the process is over," DENR spokeswoman Stephanie Hawco said.
This after SELC's claims for years that DENR's sluggishness in forcing coal ash clean-up, which seemed to begin in earnest following a much-publicized 39,000-ton-spill in Eden's Dan River last year, indicates the state regulator is too friendly with Duke.
Following the coal ash spill, DENR issued a $25.1 million fine for the company, the largest in the state's history. Duke has also pled to nine violations of the federal Clean Water Act this year, carrying with it $102 million in fines.
Everyone's cozy with Duke, it seems, and yet no one wants to say they are cozy with Duke. Ouch. This is getting awkward.
More on this as it develops.