Duke Energy Violates National Coal Ash Rule by Hiding Critical Dam Safety Information


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WASHINGTON— Local community groups across the country today sent notices that they plan to bring enforcement actions against Duke Energy for withholding critical dam safety information that Duke Energy was required to disclose to nearby communities, including emergency responders’ contact information and maps of the areas in the path of a coal ash spill.  The Southern Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice sent notices on behalf of community organizations regarding 14 Duke Energy sites across Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina where primitive, aging earthen dams hold back coal ash next to rivers and lakes.  Behind dams rated High and Significant Potential Hazards, these unlined, leaking Duke Energy sites hold millions of tons of coal ash upstream of public drinking water intakes and many are located near people’s homes and communities.

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These are examples of some of the pages from Duke Energy’s Emergency Management Plans for the utility’s coal ash ponds at its Lee site in North Carolina, which black out maps of impacted areas if a coal ash storage site fails and emergency contact information.

The Southern Environmental Law Center sent notices on behalf of these community groups in North Carolina:  Appalachian Voices, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, MountainTrue, Roanoke River Basin Association, Sound Rivers, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Winyah Rivers Foundation.

Earthjustice sent notices on behalf of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth in Kentucky and three community organizations, Hoosier Environmental Council, Wabash Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance in Indiana.

Under the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule enacted in 2015 following coal ash disasters including at Duke Energy’s Dan River site in North Carolina, Duke Energy was required to make public Emergency Action Plans for each of its coal ash storage sites where a failure would likely result in loss of human life or serious harm to the environment by April 2017.  Those plans are required to include inundation maps to show the surrounding areas that would be damaged by a failure of Duke Energy’s dangerous coal ash storage sites and also the names and contact information for emergency responders.  This information is designed to let communities know the risks they face and also how to respond when a coal ash disaster occurs.

Duke Energy, the country’s largest utility, is the only utility in the country that is withholding this information from the public.  In all of Duke Energy’s Emergency Action Plans, including in states that face flooding and hurricanes, Duke Energy has blacked out the coal ash spill maps and information for how to contact emergency responders in the event of a disaster.  Examples of Duke Energy’s blacked-out emergency plans can be seen at these links: https://earthjustice.org/documents/reference/emergency-action-plan-duke-energy-cayuga-station-indiana and https://southernenvironment.sharefile.com/d-sf596f36bc3f4e1a8.

Today’s notices challenge Duke Energy’s effort to withhold information regarding the following  Duke Energy coal ash storage sites in North Carolina:  Allen on Lake Wylie near Belmont and Charlotte, Asheville on the French Broad River near Asheville, Belews Creek on the Dan River in Stokes County near Eden and Madison, Cliffside (Rogers Energy)  on the Broad River near Shelby, Dan River on the Dan River near Danville, Lee on the Neuse River near Goldsboro, Marshall on Lake Norman near Davidson and Charlotte, Mayo on Mayo Lake and the Dan River near Roxboro, Roxboro on Hyco Lake and the Dan River near Roxboro, and Weatherspoon on the Lumber River in Robeson County near Lumberton. These notices are available here: https://southernenvironment.sharefile.com/d-sa4092ae06794d3bb

Earthjustice sent notices regarding Duke Energy’s East Bend coal ash storage site in Kentucky and its coal ash dumps at the Cayuga, Wabash River, and Gallagher power plants in Indiana.

“Communities near these coal dumps have a right to know what dangers they are facing,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Cassel, who is representing the Indiana and Kentucky community groups. “They need to know: If the dam holding this toxic waste breaks, which neighborhoods are going to be flooded? Which waterways? Who can they call to provide emergency response?”

“Of all the utilities in the country, only Duke Energy is withholding this information–what does Duke Energy have to hide?” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center which represents the North Carolina groups.  “Duke Energy is scared of the public reaction when people learn how much of their communities will be devastated by coal ash and toxic water pollution if Duke Energy’s dangerous coal ash storage sites fail.  North Carolina’s communities near Duke Energy’s coal ash sites deserve better than this.”

Duke Energy’s operating companies are on nationwide federal criminal probation because in 2015 they pleaded guilty 18 times to nine Clean Water Act crimes committed at its coal ash sites across North Carolina.  Duke Energy was responsible for one of the largest coal ash disasters in U.S. history when its Dan River coal ash site failed in 2014, spilling over 20 million gallons of coal ash polluted water and 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.  

Pete Harrison of Waterkeeper Alliance observed:  “You’d think that after being convicted on nine counts of federal coal ash crimes and having to pay over a hundred million dollars in fines and restitution, Duke Energy would have learned it doesn’t get to pick and choose which laws it has to obey and which ones it can ignore. Illegally concealing vital safety information from people who live in the shadows of its massive, leaking coal ash dumps is a new low for this habitual offender – especially when you consider every other power company in the country complied with these basic safety requirements.”

Duke Energy is facing continuing litigation at six of its coal ash sites in North Carolina where it continues to refuse to remove its coal ash from leaking and polluting unlined pits on the banks of rivers and lakes in North Carolina.  By criminal plea agreement, court order, settlement agreement, and regulatory requirements, Duke Energy is required to remove all its coal ash from 8 of its 14 sites in North and South Carolina.

The notice of intent to sue letter for the Cayuga coal ash dump is available here; the notice letter for the Wabash River dump is available here; the notice letter for the Gallagher dump is available here; and the notice letter for the East Bend dump is available here.

Duke Energy appears to be the only utility in the country that illegally concealed inundation maps and emergency contacts. Alabama Power, for example, posted the required information for all of its regulated ponds to meet the April 2017 deadline. Three Waterkeepers in Alabama recently highlighted the hazards revealed by surface impoundment inundation maps included in Alabama Power’s emergency action plans. See Mobile Baykeeper’s press release, Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s press release and Coosa Riverkeeper’s press release.

Note: Duke Energy’s Emergency Action Plans for its coal ash sites can be found through this webpage https://www.duke-energy.com/our-company/environment/compliance-and-reporting/ccr-rule-compliance-data by selecting the site and then the link to the respective Emergency Action Plan.


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