DEQ's Coal Ash Pitch Does Not Impress Residents

Feb 23, 2018

Duke Energy operated the coal-powered Sutton Plant off U.S. 421 from 1954 until 2013. They then replaced it with a natural gas facility. But coal ash still has a place at the plant. It gets stored there. Now the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is looking into re-writing the rules for coal ash disposal.

Coal ash is the byproduct from burning coal at power plants. It’s often kept in large storage ponds and landfills. It contains toxic metals including arsenic, lead, selenium, and other cancer-causing agents.

Coal ash is what brought representatives of the Department of Environmental Quality to Wilmington.  Their plan:  to present a new 90-page book of rules for the handling of coal ash.

“I am Ellen Lorscheider, and I am going to step you through why we are here tonight. …...”

Ellen Lorscheider is a Deputy Director of DEQ.

“We have a set of rules that closely mimics what the EPA has published a couple of years ago. We have been working on those to make sure they are just as protective or more so than the federal rules – our new North Carolina coal combustion residual regulations. We also will be asking the EPA for program approval, and program approval means that the state of North Carolina will regulate the energy producers and the way they dispose of coal ash into landfills, and it also will give us the opportunity to issue permits that are under an EPA-approved program for landfills and the dams.”

Less than 25 local residents attended Thursday night’s meeting. Four people were critical of the DEQ’s lack of notice for the meeting.

“It’s unclear what DEQ hopes to achieve through these so- called stakeholder meetings, but if it were truly interested in the public as a stakeholder, it should have provided more sufficient notice of these meetings.”

That’s Megan Kimball during the public comment part of the meeting. She’s a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“DEQ should not rush to carry out the Pruitt EPA’s plan to weaken protections against coal ash. DEQ has posted 90 pages of rules and given North Carolina citizens just days to review them before holding public hearings.  Moreover, DEQ can hardly expect to receive useful comments, let alone technical or scientific ones as requested, without giving the public adequate time to review, even if it plans further notice and comment later on down the road.”

The Pruitt she referred to is Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He has been considering rolling back regulations on coal ash disposal.

Christine Ellis is the Executive Director of the Winyah Rivers Foundation

“On its face, new rules at the state level that would be robust, and more strict, than existing regulations sounds good. But we’re suspicious. And we’re suspicious for many different reasons. Had we only had financial assurance from Duke, for the coal ash Impoundments, where the citizens of North Carolina would not be on tap for paying for that clean-up, that would have been a great thing for everyone.”

DEQ representatives explained how the new rules would provide specific materials and parameters a company should set up to receive a dump permit. The specifics are in the 90-page draft of rules.

“I’ve been fighting coal ash, and coal ash contamination for about eight years now. During that fight I have seen dam failures, I’ve seen groundwater contamination for communities….”

Cape Fear River Keeper Kemp Burdette.

“I think DEQ needs to put the brakes on this process, and go back to square one and start involving stakeholders around the state who have been dealing with coal ash and have some expertise that I think would be welcome at the table and would add a lot to these rules.”

No representatives from Duke Energy attended the meeting.

Should the new rules be approved, the earliest they would go into effect would by the summer of 2019. The DEQ plans to submit the draft to the Environmental Management Commission by May.