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Conservation Groups Challenge NC Environmental Agency’s Sweetheart Settlement with Duke Energy over Widespread Coal Ash Contamination

Press Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center

Contact: D.J. Gerken, SELC, 828-258-2023 or Frank Holleman, SELC, 864-979-9431 or

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—In a legal challenge filed today, conservation groups across North Carolina asked the state Superior Court to overturn approval of a settlement between Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality over the utility’s coal ash pollution throughout the state. Duke had appealed a monetary penalty at a single site, but the state’s settlement agreement abandons enforcement of groundwater pollution laws at every one of Duke Energy’s fourteen leaking coal ash sites where lawsuits are pending and even provides immunity for future violations.

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Coal Ash’s Unhealthy Glow – Lisa Evans/Earthjustice

DAVID OLAH/ISTOCK PHOTO. Scientists have found that coal ash has up to 10 times more naturally occurring radioactive materials than the parent coal it comes from.

by Lisa Evans, Sr. Administrative Counsel, Earthjustice

Burning coal for energy leaves behind toxic coal ash waste, and that waste may be even more harmful than researchers suspected. In a paper published today inEnvironmental Science and Technology, scientists and engineers from Duke University and the University of Kentucky found coal ash has up to 10 times more naturally occurring radioactive materials than the parent coal it comes from. Coal ash also has up to five times more radioactivity than average soil in the U.S.

Particularly alarming are the study findings that radioactivity may exceed safe levels for human exposure if coal ash is not isolated from water and kept from blowing away in the wind. The consequences of long-term exposure to radioactivity are dire—including life-threatening diseases such as lymphoma, bone cancer, leukemia and aplastic anemia. Cancer-causing radium in ash can remain in the lungs for months after inhalation, gradually entering the bloodstream and depositing in bones and teeth for the lifetime of the individual.

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EPA’s Huge Water Pollution Decision and Why They Need to Get it Right

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an enormously impactful decision to make. By the end of September 2015, EPA is set to update its 30-year-old guidelines for how much pollution states can permit power plants to dump into our water, called effluent limitation guidelines or the ELG rule. EPA could issue a weak, ineffective rule or a powerful rule that could be a major turning point for public health and water quality. Please urge the Obama Administration and EPA to issue a strong ELG rule!

Several options for regulating these toxic discharges have been proposed by EPA and are currently under consideration by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). SACE brought a delegation of water advocates from the Southeast to meet with OMB staff last week.

The problem
Every day, power plants across the country are using our public waters like an open sewer. Power plants dump 5.5 billion pounds of contaminated wastewater directly into our rivers, lakes, and bays every single year. They discharge more toxic waste than the next nine most polluting industries combined and create 50% of all toxic pollution dumped into our waterways. 40% of this pollution is within five miles of public drinking water supply intakes. more »

Buenos Dias, D.C. — Una Introducción a los Peligros de las Cenizas de Carbón (an Introduction to the Dangers of Coal Ash)

Este estanque de cenizas de carbón en la instalación de Cape Fear de Duke Energy ha funcionado como deposito de cenizas y toxinas desde 1985

Este artículo fue publicado originalmente por Earthjustice. Betsy López-Wagner es secretaria de prensa bilingüe en Earthjustice. Trabaja en la oficina en San Francisco, California. Es periodista y consumada experta de comunicaciones, Betsy tiene una  amplia experiencia en medios de comunicación, tanto en inglés como en español.

Mira el video aquí

Las cenizas tóxicas de carbón son un problema a nivel nacional y son responsables en gran medida de la contaminación del agua potable y del aire, constituyendo en general una amenaza para la salud pública. El 28 de julio, Andrea Delgado, representante legislativa de Earthjustice, fue invitada a “Buenos Días, D.C.”, un programa de Univisión en Washington, D.C., para hablar con Néstor Bravo y explicar que son las cenizas de carbón, que industrias las producen, por qué necesitamos normas para proteger a las comunidades y la oposición que tales normas enfrentan en el Congreso. Casi el 70 por ciento de estas represas de cenizas se encuentran en comunidades habitadas por comunidades minoritarias y de bajos ingresos. Mira el video aquí.

South Carolina Utilities Remove over 1 Million Tons of Coal Ash


Press Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center

For Release: July 22, 2015
Contacts: Kathleen Sullivan, SELC, 919-945-7106 or

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.–As of July 2015, South Carolina utilities have removed over 1 million tons of coal ash from two sites covered by settlement agreements obtained by local conservation groups.

At the Wateree Plant on the Catawba-Wateree River near Columbia, South Carolina, SCE&G has now removed over 723,000 tons of coal ash from riverside lagoons. The removal is required under a 2012 settlement agreement reached with SCE&G to resolve litigation brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper.

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Gulf Power and Conservation Groups Agree on Plan to Contain Coal Ash Pollution along Apalachicola River

Florida Settlement

June 24, 2015

TALLAHASSEE – In a landmark legal settlement reached today with three conservation groups, Gulf Power Company has agreed to take steps to protect North Florida’s famed Apalachicola River from toxic coal ash waste that is stockpiled at the company’s 62-year-old Scholz Generating Plant near Sneads, Florida.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash, which contains an array of toxic heavy metals like arsenic and lead, currently sits in leaking, unlined waste lagoons atop a bluff overlooking the river. After water samples taken by Waterkeeper Alliance and Apalachicola Riverkeeper indicated pollutants were leaking from the lagoons into the river, Earthjustice sued Gulf Power under the federal Clean Water Act on behalf of the Waterkeeper groups, who were joined by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. In the 2014 suit, the groups raised concerns that the earthen berms surrounding the coal ash could suddenly give way and cause a massive coal ash spill, devastating the entire scenic river and its delicate estuary downstream.

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Duke dealt largest federal criminal fine in NC history for coal ash crimes

Duke Guilty_Clean Up Your MessOn May 14, 2015, Duke Energy pled guilty to 9 criminal misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act. The charges stemmed from a widened investigation, after the Dan River disaster, that found violations at Duke-owned facilities in Buncombe, Chatham, Wayne and Gaston Counties in North Carolina. Duke negotiated a plea bargain that included $68 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation projects. Duke’s fine, totaling over $102 million, is the largest criminal fine at the federal level in NC history. In addition to this historic fine, Duke will also be on probation for five years and will report its coal ash compliance in five states to federal parole officers.

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Duke fines for coal ash pile up, but the ash piles don’t shrink

Duke_clean_up_your_mess-1-300x251Duke Energy is under a lot of pressure these days. Coal ash has become a serious financial and public relations liability for the corporation, yet so far, the nation’s largest utility isn’t planning to adequately clean up its mess across the Southeast. The impacts of coal ash on communities and waterways continue, and the price of business as usual is increasing – but it doesn’t seem to be enough so far to drive necessary action.

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Lisa Evans is an attorney specializing in hazardous waste law. Ms. Evans has been active in hazardous waste litigation and advocacy for over 25 years. Since 2006, she has been a senior administrative counsel for Earthjustice. Lisa’s blog was originally posted here.


You have to acknowledge the tenacity of Rep. David McKinley (R, WV). Just three months (and only 42 working days) after EPA signed its first-ever coal ash rule, McKinley has introduced a new coal ash bill that guts the new EPA rule and protects the polluters who finance his campaigns.

During a hearing last week on McKinley’s bill, it became clear that, though the EPA’s final coal ash rule already gave much away to the utilities, the House majority won’t abide by any reasonable rules governing toxic ash disposal. The result is an exceedingly dangerous bill that will permanently give polluters a free pass to dump the second largest industrial waste stream in the nation without any accountability to the communities they are fouling.

So how does the new bill eliminate, weaken and/or delay coal ash requirements critical to protecting public health and safety?

Let us count the ways:

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Duke Energy charged with 9 Clean Water Act violations from coal ash

Late Friday afternoon, after many had gone home for the weekend, news broke that The Department of Justice filed federal charges in all three of NC’s federal district courts against Duke Energy for violations of the Clean Water Act. Duke is charged with 9 misdemeanor violations for polluting four of NC’s rivers. In order to settle the charges, Duke Energy’s plea bargain includes $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation projects – totaling over $102 million, which already garnered widespread media coverage after Duke’s announcement Feb. 18, 2015 in a financial disclosure statement. No individuals will be charged in connection to the violations. The deal will ultimately need the approval of a federal judge.

The federal grand jury probe has been ongoing since last February when Duke dumped nearly 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. That’s a total of 140,000 tons of toxic waste and wastewater combined into the sensitive eco-system of the Dan River. Four of the federal misdemeanor charges are for the Dan River ash disaster. Additional charges accuse Duke Energy of illegally draining coal ash and wastewater at three other power plants: the Catawba River from the Riverbend power plant just west of Charlotte; the Neuse River from the H.F. Lee plant; the French Broad River from the Asheville plant. The charges include failure of Duke officials to maintain treatment system equipment at the Dan River plant and the Cape Fear power plant in Chatham County.

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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