Coal Ash News and Media

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Toxic Coal Ash Puts Apalachicola River at Risk

This post originally appeared in the Apalachicola and Carrabelle Times on July 9, 2014. You can access the original piece here

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The Apalachicola River supports one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the nation.

Early this year, the picturesque Dan River in North Carolina was hit by a devastating toxic spill that spread 70 miles downstream, poisoning the water and everything in it. Why am I telling you about an environmental disaster which happened hundreds of miles away from us?

Because our own Apalachicola River is vulnerable to the same series of events, and we need to do everything we can to prevent this from happening here.

The hazardous coal ash that fouled the Dan River was stockpiled at a Duke Energy coal-fired power plant site. Like other power companies, Duke stores the hazardous ash that’s left over from burning coal in huge, unlined pits. When a pipe at the Duke plant failed, 140,000 tons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater went into the river.

We have toxic coal ash stockpiled along the Apalachicola, at Gulf Power Company’s Scholz Generating Plant near Sneads. And it is leaking into the river. In June 2013, samples of bright orange contamination leaking out of the pits contained arsenic at levels 300 times the amount considered safe for drinking water.

Besides poisonous arsenic, the coal ash also contains toxics like cadmium, and chromium – well-known carcinogens – as well as aluminum, barium, beryllium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc, selenium, and the neurotoxin mercury.

This is a public hazard. On June 4, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed a federal lawsuit against Gulf Power under the Clean Water Act. The public-interest law firm Earthjustice is representing us in the suit.

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Coal Ash and Summer Fun Just Don’t Mix

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Is there any better way to beat the heat than a trip down a lazy river?

This post is authored by Joan Walker and was originally published on SACE’s Clean Energy Footprints blog

If you’re anything like me, this is the time of year when you’re gearing up to get out on your favorite waterway for some summer fun. Whether you’re tubing, paddling, fishing, swimming or just taking in the scenery; our region’s rivers, lakes and streams are the perfect place to cool off and enjoy the great outdoors!

Waterways are also vitally important to our communities and economy; with rivers alone providing drinking water for over 65% of Americans and generating $86 billion a year in economic activity. As National Rivers Months draws to an end, it’s important not only to get out and enjoy the amazing waterways we’re blessed with in the Southeast, but to also take action to protect our waterways from threats like toxic coal ash.

You’ve likely heard about the Dan River coal ash spill that happened this February and all the news about North Carolina’s coal ash that’s come to light since then. Right now, the North Carolina Legislature is moving a bill that could help clean up the state’s coal ash dumpsites (if you live in NC, click here to ask your elected officials to make necessary improvements to this bill).

But coal ash isn’t just a problem in North Carolina, the Southeast is home to over 450 toxic dumpsites that threaten communities and the waterways we all love and depend on. 

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Coal Ash Legal Fight Moves to Florida

On any given day you can find people boating and fishing on the Apalachicola just downstream of the Scholz dumpsites.

On any given day you can find people boating and fishing on the Apalachicola just downstream of the Scholz dumpsites.

With all the news following the Dan River coal ash disaster this February, it may seem that North Carolina is the only Southeastern state with coal ash woes. Unfortunately, there are plenty of problems to go around with at least 450 ash dumpsites scattered across our region. Many of these are aging, unlined, wet storage impoundments located on vital water resources and drinking water supplies, just like those on the Dan River.

To date, little attention has been given to Florida’s coal ash problems, even though it’s home to 78 ash impoundments. That is changing, however, as SACE recently teamed up with our partners at Earthjustice, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Apalachicola Riverkeeper to investigate the impoundments at Gulf Power’s Scholz Generating Station, located on the banks of the Apalachicola River, which supports a multi-billion dollar seafood industry and one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the country.

Our testing revealed illegal seeps pouring high concentrations of toxic heavy metals into the river, and last week we filed a federal federal lawsuit to stop Gulf’s pollution and protect the Apalachicola. 

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Conservationists Sue To Stop Toxic Coal Ash Pollution Leaking Into Apalachicola River

ScholzTALLAHASSEE — On behalf of three conservation groups, Earthjustice has filed a federal lawsuit to stop toxic water pollution that is leaking into the Apalachicola River from an aging 40-acre coal ash dump at Gulf Power Company’s Scholz Generating Plant near Sneads, Florida. The groups say Gulf Power is illegally discharging dangerous pollutants—including arsenic and lead—into the river, threatening people and the environment in the most ecologically-diverse area of the southern U.S.

Gulf Power, a subsidiary of the $38-billion Southern Company, has flushed millions of gallons of toxic coal ash sludge into 40 acres of unlined pits that sit atop a bluff along the Apalachicola River. The groups say the waste is leaking out of the pits and into the river, contaminating the water with pollutants including arsenic, cadmium, and chromium – all well-known carcinogens – as well as aluminum, barium, beryllium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc, selenium, and the neurotoxin mercury.

One test, in June 2013, found that arsenic levels coming out of the unlined pits were 300 times the amount of arsenic considered safe for drinking water. Earthjustice filed its Clean Water Act suit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Fl. on behalf of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Apalachicola Riverkeeper.

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Pressure Mounts for Duke Energy Coal Ash Cleanup

A protest organized by Charlotte Environmental Action Group gathered outside Duke Energy’s headquarters on Feb. 6. Source: Charlotte Business Journal

A protest organized by Charlotte Environmental Action Group gathered outside Duke Energy’s headquarters on Feb. 6. Source: Charlotte Business Journal

Since the Dan River coal ash disaster began, North Carolina seems to have become the epicenter in the fight to clean up coal ash dumpsites. All eyes are on Duke Energy and state officials as clean water, public health and environmental justice advocates across the country follow the latest developments and press for strong, comprehensive clean-up to serve as a model for how the nation’s 1,425 coal ash dumps are handled.

A lot has happened since our last update on North Carolina’s coal ash fight, in the courts, the court of public opinion, at the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NC DENR) and the General Assembly. While the call grows louder for Duke Energy to move their coal ash out of leaking impoundments and away from our rivers, lakes, and streams, the massive utility continues to resist actually making plans to clean up their toxic dumpsites across North Carolina.

Duke’s major shareholders are now joining environmentalists and concerned citizens in calling for action on ash. They are demanding an independent probe of the Dan River disaster and the immediate rejection of four members of Duke’s board of directors. According to the investors those directors  “have failed to fulfill their obligations of risk oversight as members of a committee overseeing health, safety, and environmental compliance at the company.” We couldn’t agree more.

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Latest Dan River Coal Ash Spill News

Click here to be redirected to our page dedicated to the latest news on the Dan River coal ash spill

NC Sides With Duke in Appeal of Coal Ash Ruling

April 8, 2014 (AP)
By Michael Biesecker/Associated Press

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A Duke Energy crew works to dig out a broken stormwater pipe under a coal ash pond at the company’s Dan River plant. Source: WFAE.org

North Carolina regulators are joining with Duke Energy in appealing a judge’s ruling on cleaning up groundwater pollution leeching from the company’s coal ash dumps.

The state Environmental Management Commission filed notice Monday that it intends to appeal a March 6 ruling by Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway.

The commission and Duke contend North Carolina law does not give the state the authority to order an immediate cleanup. Ridgeway ruled the state had been misinterpreting the law for years.

Environmentalists say the decision to file an appeal directly conflicts with public statements from Gov. Pat McCrory suggesting his administration is getting tough with his former employer after a Feb. 2 coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic gray sludge.

McCrory, a Republican, worked for Duke more than 28 years prior to retiring to run for governor. The nation’s largest electricity company and its employees have remained generous political supporters to McCrory’s campaign and GOP-aligned groups that support him, providing more than $1.1 million in support since 2008.

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Dan River Groups Seek Cleanup of Duke’s Coal Ash Pollution

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Coal ash and contaminated wastewater have spilled into the Dan River from this 48-inch stormwater pipe and multiple other points.

March 20, 2014

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—The Southern Environmental Law Center today filed motions to allow four conservation groups working on the Dan River to participate in the state court enforcement action against Duke Energy for its illegal coal ash pollution of the Dan River and groundwater drinking supplies. SELC filed the motion on behalf of groups that monitor and protect the Dan River– the Dan River Basin Association, the Roanoke River Basin Association, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Waterkeeper Alliance. They identified numerous illegal discharges ignored by the state in the aftermath of Duke’s disastrous coal ash spill last month.

“The tragic Dan River spill and the revelations of uncomfortably close ties between Duke Energy and DENR make it all the more important that citizens and local conservation groups have a seat at the table,” said Frank Holleman, the senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups in court. “We will work to make sure that the Dan River is protected and that Duke Energy cleans up the Dan River site.”

The groups seek to stop and clean up unpermitted streams of contaminated surface water that have been discharging from the dikes of the Dan River coal ash lagoons since before the spill and are continuing today, as well as persistent groundwater pollution leaching from these unlined impoundments that documentation shows Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources have known about since the early 1990s. The illegal discharges at Dan River include high levels of coal ash pollutants such as arsenic and lead.

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Picnic for the Dan River: Eden community rallies after coal ash spill for World Water Day

This Saturday's event will celebrate the many parts of the Dan River unaffected by the spill and call for swift clean up of impacted areas.

This Saturday’s event will celebrate the many parts of the Dan River unaffected by the spill and call for swift clean up of impacted areas.

March 20, 2014

Speakers, residents and clean water advocates will rally at Island Ford Landing in Eden on World Water Day, Saturday, March 22 from noon to 1:30 to celebrate the Dan River and all the rivers throughout the Dan River Basin, and call on Duke Energy to provide information on how it plans to clean up from last month’s coal ash spill at the Dan River power plant.

Last month, more than 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash and 24 million gallons of contaminated wastewater spilled from Duke Energy’s coal ash impoundments north of Eden, spurring significant public outcry to protect all of North Carolina’s rivers from this dangerous threat. The spill also created a stigma on the rivers here, said Jenny Edwards, program manager for the Dan River Basin Association.

“Recovery from this disaster includes changing the public perception that the entire Dan is toxic, because that’s just not the case,” Edwards said.

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Dan River Disaster Recap Timeline

Coal ash eddies in the Dan River. Photo source: Appalachian Voices

Coal ash eddies in the Dan River. Photo source: Appalachian Voices

Having trouble keeping track of all the developments since the Dan River disaster began over a month ago? We continue to be amazed that the coal ash spill and subsequent developments have been in the news almost every day. This story has more twists and turns than the Dan River itself; sparking significant public outcry, a federal investigation into Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Gov. McCrory’s request for Duke’s coal ash plans and more. Keeping up with the latest developments has been challenging, so  we compiled this retrospective timeline showing how this story has unfolded over the weeks. Please share!

February 2: A stormwater pipe bursts beneath an unlined coal ash impoundment at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River plant, spilling coal ash and contaminated wastewater directly into the Dan River.

February 3: Approximately 26 hours after the spill began Duke Energy finally notifies the public. NC Department of Natural Resources staff are on the scene helping to control the leak and begin taking water quality samples. Even at this early stage, with no water quality testing of the River or coal ash complete, officials downstream in Danville say the city’s drinking water will be safe.

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9/15/2010- 60 Minutes Video: 130 Million Tons of Waste

11/6/2011- Scientific American Podcast: Buried in Coal Ash?

6/28/2012- Environmental Integrity Report: New EPA Data Show Coal Ash Problem Much Worse

7/5/2012- Rachel Maddow Show segment: Big Sister Steamed Bun