Legal case begins against coal ash dumps in Chatham, Lee counties | News

Legal case begins against coal ash dumps in Chatham, Lee counties

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PHOTO COURTESY OF THE N.C. DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
  • Photo courtesy of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

Two days after Thanksgiving, with plans for coal-ash dumping underway in abandoned brick mines in rural Chatham and Lee counties, community advocates made their last plea for a little holiday charity from Duke Energy.

“The solution to the coal ash problem is not spreading the contamination to other sites,” wrote Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League executive director Louis Zeller in a “cease-and-desist” letter to Duke CEO Lynn Good. “Duke Energy has already polluted far too many North Carolina communities.”

Cue the crickets. Now, without voluntary action from Duke and its contractors, environmentalists will have to pin their hopes on the courts. Legal arguments began this week in BREDL’s challenge to coal-ash permits issued by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

The groups are currently arguing to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings that North Carolina regulators exceeded their authority, “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” and generally failed to do their job in issuing permits this summer for dumping up to 20 million tons of coal ash in Chatham and Lee.

Given that state law—passed last year following the 39,000-ton ash spill in Eden’s Dan River—requires Duke to find some place to stash about 100 million tons stored at its most “high-risk” facilities in the next 15 years, it’s likely just the beginning of Duke’s disposal plans. And the ensuing controversy.

In BREDL’s petition, the group claims the state permits “would have a significant and adverse impact on the health and well-being of the members of the petitioners, and on their families, the use and enjoyment of their property, the value of their property and other economic interests.”

By referring to the “adverse impact” on health, they’re likely alluding to the presence of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, selenium and cadmium found in coal ash. Duke, however, has argued, time and again that the transport and disposal will be handled safely in Chatham and Lee.

Never mind—as BREDL lawyers point out—that the energy giant’s dumping contractors, Charah Inc. and Green Meadow LLC, already violated state regulations in Chatham in June, beginning land-clearing activities without the necessary permit.

And the DEQ sanctioned Duke for more missteps last week, when inspectors noted the company had failed to take the proper erosion-control steps and failed to notify the state in time at a coal-ash dumping ground in Asheville.


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