Waterkeeper Groups Notify EPA of Intent to Sue Under Safe Drinking Water Act


Regulator has missed Safe Drinking Water Act deadlines for toxic and carcinogenic contaminants

Waterkeeper Alliance, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, and California Coastkeeper Alliance today notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of their intent to sue the agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act because EPA has missed Safe Drinking Water Act deadlines for reviewing and regulating drinking water contaminants, including tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, hexavalent chromium, and others. The environmental groups are represented in this matter by Reed W. Super, Esq. of Super Law Group, LLC.

EPA’s mandatory obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act include identifying unregulated contaminants for monitoring and/or regulation, regulating those contaminants, and reviewing and revising existing drinking water regulations, all according to a specific timetable mandated by Congress. If EPA does not perform its mandatory obligations, we plan to file suit in early 2019.

The mandatory duties the groups intend to enforce in the upcoming lawsuit involve particular contaminants:

  • Chromium (including hexavalent chromium, the chemical best known from the movie “Erin Brockovich”) was regulated in 1991, with an enforceable limit of 100 parts per billion, based on the assumption that it was noncarcinogenic through oral exposure even though it is known to cause cancer when inhaled. Since then, the National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence of carcinogenic activity” when hexavalent chromium is ingested in drinking water. California set a goal of 0.2 parts per billion and an enforceable limit of 10 parts per billion. EPA has been studying it for many years but has not begun to revise it, or complete its review, well past the deadline for doing so.
  • Tetrachloroethylene (“PERC”), trichloroethylene (“TCE”), chlorite, cryptosporidium, haloacetic acids, heterotrophic bacteria, Giardia lamblia, Legionella, total trihalomethanes, and viruses. In 2010, EPA said the existing regulations for the solvents tetrachloroethylene (PERC) and trichloroethylene (TCE) should be revised to be more protective of human health. In 2017, EPA reached the same conclusion for the other eight contaminants listed here. But EPA has done nothing to develop revised regulations.

EPA also has a mandatory obligation under the Safe Drinking Water Act to make final regulatory determinations with respect to at least five contaminants published on the Candidate Contaminant List every five years. The fourth regulatory determinations were due by August 6, 2016.

EPA failed to publish by the February 6, 2018 deadline the fifth Candidate Contaminant List, which is the list of contaminants that are not subject to any proposed or promulgated National Primary Drinking Water Regulation, but are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems and may require regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is also due every five years.

“EPA has a clear legal obligation to monitor and regulate contaminants, including carcinogens, in our drinking water. It is not optional,” said Marc Yaggi, Waterkeeper Alliance’s Executive Director. “There is too much at stake for these waiting games to continue. If the agency continues to drag its feet, refusing to protect the public from harmful chemicals, we will sue to force it to do so.”

“The public puts its trust in government to ensure our drinking water is safe,” said Betsy Nicholas, Waterkeeper Chesapeake’s Executive Director. “Right now, that trust is broken because EPA is not fulfilling its obligation to monitor dangerous drinking water contaminants. It’s a sad necessity that we must force the agency’s hand to fulfill its most basic obligation to the people.”

“The EPA’s job is to protect human health and the environment, and every month that the agency fails to set limits on chemicals used in dry-cleaning fluid, degreasers, refrigerants and other toxic substances that are detected in our drinking water is another month that Californians are put at risk for cancer, liver disease, and other illnesses,” said Sean Bothwell, California Coastkeeper Alliance’s  Executive Director. “At a time when California must do more to provide safe and affordable drinking water, California Coastkeeper Alliance is joining this lawsuit with the hope that the revised national standards will compel California to take bold action.”


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Environmental Groups Challenge Trump Administration Coal Ash Rule Rollback in Court


coal ash north carolina cape fear

In wake of recent court decision, EPA’s watering down of coal ash regulations on weak footing 

Environmental groups have filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit challenging an EPA rule designed to gut coal ash disposal regulations that provide environmental safeguards for communities living near toxic coal ash waste dumps.

In March of 2018, the EPA proposed the rollbacks in response to an industry petition to the Trump Administration. The rule was finalized in July, and modifies the Obama-era Coal Ash Rule from 2015. Under the Trump Administration changes, power plant owners have more time to clean up leaking coal ash disposal sites that have been shown to have contaminated groundwater.  The new rule also allows state-run coal ash permit programs to include loopholes such as allowing states to waive groundwater monitoring requirements under certain circumstances.

A recent court decision casts serious doubt on the legality of these rollbacks.  In August, the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of environmental groups’ lawsuit challenging that the original Obama-era rule was unlawfully weak in several key respects.  In particular, the court struck down provisions of the 2015 Coal Ash Rule that exempted impoundments at closed coal plants and allowed coal ash impoundments that are unlined or only underlain by inadequate clay liners to continue to operate.  The EPA must now draft rules to address more than 100 “legacy” coal ash ponds at retired coal plant sites. The EPA is also now required to address the closure of over 600 unlined or clay-lined coal ash ponds in response to the court’s decision.

“The risk that legacy impoundments and insufficiently lined coal ash ponds pose is too great to let another hurricane season go by without addressing the problem,” said Thomas Cmar, deputy managing attorney for the coal program at Earthjustice. “The dam breach at the Sutton Plant that spewed toxic coal ash into the Cape Fear River in the wake of flooding from Hurricane Florence should make it clear that there’s no time to waste.”

“Throughout the country, in the absence of adequate regulation by EPA, coal ash has been irresponsibly disposed of,” said Larissa Liebmann, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. “This leaves communities and waterways vulnerable to long-term contamination, as well as spills like we saw in North Carolina with Hurricane Florence. EPA needs to stop catering to industry and start protecting the public.”

“The Trump EPA is a rogue agency, out of step with both its mission and the law,” said Environmental Integrity Project attorney Abel Russ. “The courts are telling EPA that the coal ash rule is not strong enough, and meanwhile EPA is trying to weaken the rule. It’s absurd. The American people deserve better.”

Andrew Rehn, water resources engineer for the Prairie Rivers Network said, “Illinois needs the US EPA to step up its protections on coal ash, not back away from them. Illinois’s only National Scenic River is constantly being polluted by seepage from a coal ash pit at a closed power plant, and it’s not the only waterway in Illinois with coal ash sitting on the riverbank.”

“It’s clear the Trump administration doesn’t value protecting human health, especially if corporate special interests could be slightly inconvenienced,” said Jennifer Peters, National Water Programs Director for Clean Water Action. “This outrageous scheme would let coal plants put communities, families, and water at risk with impunity. It’s time for EPA to listen to the courts and the public and strengthen, not weaken coal ash safeguards.”

“It’s clear that former coal lobbyist and current acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has an open door policy when it comes to the coal industry,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Senior Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Coal ash is a dangerous, widespread problem, but instead of safeguarding the public from its devastating effects, Wheeler is once again ignoring the issue in order to placate his former clients. Without strong federal coal ash regulations, polluters will continue to dump their toxic coal ash waste in unlined pits that will continue failing, endangering drinking water and public safety. The courts have already agreed the risks posed by coal ash can no longer be ignored, and that’s why we’re fighting this most-recent Wheeler rollback.”

“The efforts of the current administration to roll back environmental safeguards are a direct threat to public health and safety,” Dr. Scott Williams, Executive Director of HEAL Utah said. “We can’t sit by idly and allow these rules to be eliminated. If we do, our most vulnerable populations – our elders and our children – will suffer needlessly from our lack of action.”

The petition was filed by Earthjustice, The Environmental Integrity Project, and Sierra Club, on behalf of Clean Water Action, Hoosier Environmental Council, Prairie Rivers Network, HEAL Utah, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

Read the release online

Read the Petition for Review

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Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer. For more information, visit www.earthjustice.org.

Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates around the world, focusing citizen action on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. The Waterkeeper movement patrols and protects over 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes, and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 15-old-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to enforcing environmental laws to protect public health and the natural world. For more information, visit www.environmentalintegrity.org.

Prairie Rivers Network (PRN) is Illinois’ advocate for clean water and healthy rivers and is the Illinois affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. PRN advocates for cultural values, policies and practices that sustain the ecological health and biological diversity of Illinois’ water resources and aquatic ecosystems. It is a member-supported, nonprofit organization that champions clean, healthy rivers and lakes and safe drinking water to benefit the people and wildlife of Illinois. For more information, visit www.prairierivers.org.

Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking, and people power to the table. We will protect clean water in the face of attacks from a polluter-friendly Administration and Congress.  For more information, visit www.cleanwateraction.org.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.

HEAL Utah has been an environmental advocate, watchdog, and strategic influencer in Utah for nearly 20 years. By empowering grassroots advocates, using science-based solutions, and pursuing common-sense policy, HEAL has a track record of tackling some of the biggest threats to Utah’s environment and public health — and succeeding. HEAL focuses on improving air quality, promoting renewable energy, combating climate change, and protecting Utah from radioactive waste. For more information, visit www.healutah.org.

The Hoosier Environmental Council is Indiana’s leading educator and advocate for environmental issues and policies. We are passionate about our role in shaping the state’s environmental future and all who will be affected by it. For more information, visit www.hecweb.org.


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

New Map Details Extreme Rainfall and Risk of Flooding on Thousands of North Carolina’s Hog and Poultry Facilities


florence map

Analysis of Operations in and nearby Floodplains Reveals the Potential Inundations of Thousands of Waste Cesspools Holding Hundreds of Millions of Gallons of Manure and Urine

Hurricane Florence’s torrential rains pelted parts of North Carolina that are home to more than 1,500 industrial animal operations with over 1,000 nearby waste storage cesspools. These operations have the potential to annually produce as much as 4 billion gallons of wet swine waste and 400 thousand tons of dry poultry litter, an exclusive analysis by EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance reveals.

The organizations overlaid locations of concentrated animal feeding operations with government rainfall estimates to produce an interactive map that details Florence’s potential impact on vulnerable operations in the state. Clicking and zooming in on a location shows the estimated amount of rain each operation received from Sept. 14, when Florence made landfall, through Sept. 16, and the potential amount of waste produced or stored at each site.

The groups calculated the potential waste stored at each site by using North Carolina permit data, the USDA Agricultural Census, and manure production rate data from the North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual. A link to the methodology is here.

Among our findings:

  • There are 926 concentrated hog feeding operations housing over 3.8 million pigs and 578 industrial poultry operations holding an estimated 35 million poultry in areas where the National Weather Service said flooding was “occurring or imminent” after Florence. Livestock at those 1,504 concentrated animal feeding operations are capable of producing 4 billion of gallons of wet waste and over 400,000 tons of dry litter each year. More than a third of those sites received an estimated 15 to 19 inches of rain, and more than one-fourth saw more than 20 inches.
  • There are 123 hog industrial hog operations and 40 industrial poultry operations in or within 500 feet of the 100-year floodplain that received at least 15 inches of rain. Livestock at those 163 sites are capable of producing more than 395 million gallons of liquid waste and more than 27,000 tons of dry waste a year.
  • Federal standards require waste pits in North Carolina to be designed to withstand a so-called 24-hour/25-year rain event without releasing manure. In areas where the National Weather Service said flooding was occurring or imminent, more than 1,000 waste pits received more rain than the 24-hour/25-year rain event defined for that location. Of those, an estimated 35 pits are in the 100-year floodplain and received over 15 inches of rain. Those pits alone are capable of holding more than 129 million gallons of animal waste.
  • The map below shows colored bands of estimated rainfall amounts in North Carolina’s coastal plain from Sept. 14-16. The dark diagonal lines show the zones of rainfall expected during a 24-hour/25-year rain event. In all of the zones except for the one with the lowest expected rainfall (in blue), the total estimated rainfall was well in excess of what the waste pits were designed to withstand.

Source: EWG, from National Weather Service data

“It’s just a matter of time until another massive rain event happens again in the floodplain,” said Soren Rundquist, Director of Spatial Analysis at EWG. “How many scenes of swamped animal barns and breached manure pits do state leaders and the factory farm industry need to see before they realize producing and storing billions of pounds of animal waste in flood-prone areas was and is a bad decision?”

“Waste mismanagement at industrial animal agriculture operations threatens public health and environmental quality under sunny skies,” said Will Hendrick, staff attorney and manager of the Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign at Waterkeeper Alliance. “That threat is disproportionately borne by communities of color or low wealth and it is exacerbated, given the concentration of production in the coastal plain, by increasingly frequent and severe storms like Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.”

EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance will continue our analysis of Hurricane Florence’s impact on CAFOs in North Carolina’s coastal plain.


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Hurricane-Impacted Communities, Allies Challenge Factory Farm Pollution Exemption from Federal Emergency Preparedness Law


Communities, local responders threatened by deadly pollution are being kept in the dark, ill-prepared for emergencies

As North Carolina communities grapple with the pollution from industrial pig, chicken, and turkey operations that flooded during Hurricane Florence, community groups and an allied national coalition filed a legal complaint in federal court late Friday challenging a Trump administration policy that unlawfully exempts industrial animal feeding operations from having to report toxic pollution under a federal emergency planning and right-to-know law.

In the wake of Hurricane Florence, the nation’s attention focused on the pork industry’s unsavory practice of storing toxic animal waste in open-air pits. That waste storage method poses a threat not just to drinking water — when floodwaters inundate the pits, for example – but the toxic pollutants released from these pits also pose a grave risk to air quality. And these emissions are not just foul-smelling; they can be deadly.

“The full extent of the damage to our communities is still unknown. But one thing’s clear: we need better protections for communities neighboring these operations,” said Devon Hall, Executive Director of Duplin County, NC-based Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH). Duplin County, a hub of industrial pig operations, was among the hardest hit by Hurricane Florence. “Eliminating this exemption is a simple way to help make sure my neighbors and I are better protected, not just when a hurricane hits but from the day-in and day-out pollution we face.”

The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued legal ‘guidance’ that seeks to flout an April 2017 federal court ruling and creates an unauthorized exemption in the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). The law requires polluters like factory farms to notify local communities and first responders when they threaten air and water quality. In spite of the deadly dangers posed by the ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from animal waste, including emissions from animal waste pits, and waste in animal confinement buildings, the Trump administration wants to exempt the nation’s largest animal operations from reporting the emissions of these air pollutants.

“The public has the right to know the amount of pollution in their communities, as well as the source,” said Heather Deck, executive director of the North Carolina-based Sound Rivers. “Without this information, our state cannot begin to address the harm caused by industrial animal facilities to our state’s water resources.”

REACH and Sound Rivers are being represented by the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice and are joined by Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Food Safety, Don’t Waste Arizona, Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch, Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance in the complaint.

“At the behest of greedy and powerful corporations, the Trump administration is trying to weaken a law designed to protect communities from hazardous chemicals – the same communities that bore the brunt of dangerous pollution emanating from industrial animal operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. We won’t stand by and let this lawbreaking and abuse endanger these and countless other communities across the country,” said Carrie Apfel, an attorney with Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food and Farming Program.

“We were hopeful that, after the Court’s 2017 ruling in Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA, the agency would finally take action to address this serious problem, but instead the EPA is attempting to shield the industry from simply disclosing their pollution to the public,” said Kelly Foster, Senior Attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “CAFOs are known to release hazardous pollutants that can pose serious risks of illness or death near homes, schools, businesses, and communities. It is EPA’s responsibility to protect the public by ensuring information about these releases is disclosed – not to keep devising new legal strategies to keep it secret.”

Under the exemption, the nation’s largest pig confinements, egg, and dairy operations, chicken and turkey production facilities, and cattle feeding operations – known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs—would be exempt from reporting hazardous releases of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxic air pollutants. Sudden exposure to these toxic emissions can be fatal: one study found that 19 workers at CAFOs were killed from hydrogen sulfide released during manure agitation. Chronic exposures to lower levels of these pollutants are also associated with a long list of health impacts, from headaches to respiratory irritation to nausea.

“This is the latest move to allow the meat industry to profit from dirty, polluting practices without accountability,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It will endanger lives in rural communities where these facilities reside, and it threatens their own workers, who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. This deregulatory move is toxic in more ways than one – and it is illegal as well.”

“There are around 40,000 hogs within four miles of my house,” says Rosemary Partridge, an Iowa farmer and Food & Water Watch member. “Our bedroom is about 175 feet from where some of this factory farm manure is spread, and the air pollution has severely harmed our health and quality of life. My husband has been diagnosed with C.O.P.D., which has worsened since the two factory farms nearest our home began operating. We need to know what toxic emissions we’re being exposed to.”

The reporting data is crucial for communities struggling with pollution from CAFOs. In one instance, a community in Ohio relied on emissions data reported by the state’s largest egg producer to address dangerously high concentrations of hazardous air pollutants released into a neighboring community, to help secure a $1.4 million settlement for local air pollution controls.

“The public and their physicians need the information about ammonia and hydrogen sulfide releases to determine the best ways to protect their health. People who live near these facilities are complaining of adverse health effects,” said Steve Brittle of Don’t Waste Arizona. Don’t Waste Arizona heads to trial later this month in a case filed against a large-scale egg production facility outside of Phoenix for failing to provide reports required under EPCRA informing residents about the massive quantities of ammonia emitted from the facility.

The facilities that benefit from the Trump administration’s pollution exemption are not small, independent farms. Instead, they include the nation’s largest meat and dairy production facilities, which share close ties with a handful of powerful corporations. For example, five multinational companies control 70 percent of U.S. meat production and processing – earning tens of billions of dollars each year.  Each CAFO confines hundreds, thousands, or even millions of animals and generates a staggering quantity of urine and feces.

“It should surprise no one that the same animal factories that perpetually torment and confine billions of farm animals extend their disregard to neighbors, wildlife and habitats,” said Peter Brandt, Managing Attorney for Farm Animals for the Humane Society of the United States. “That EPA would prioritize the bottom line of multinationals over the health of children and the environment shows how far the agency has strayed from its purpose.”

“Animals confined on factory farms experience the same harmful effects of air emissions as neighboring residents and communities,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The public has a right to know the truth about these animal factories, so they can work to protect themselves and the farmed animals they care about.”

Scientific evidence shows that people living in communities near these industrial agricultural operations are more likely to suffer a range of negative health consequences, including premature death.

“Toxic air emissions from concentrated animal feeding operations harm the health of community members living near these operations,” said Jane Williams, Chair of the Sierra Club’s National Clean Air Team. “Common sense measures exist that can dramatically reduce these emissions; this is why we need to take action to gain more information about the magnitude and location of these emissions.”

“This law was meant to apply equally to all sources of industrial pollution,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “And it should apply equally. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are not less dangerous just because they come from an industrial livestock operation. EPA is following a very disturbing pattern of giving special treatment to its favorite industries. That is simply illegal.”

“EPA is charged with protecting public health, not defending the interests of corporate polluters,” said Ryan Talbott, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. “By allowing CAFOs to conceal their toxic air emissions, EPA is telling the communities impacted by these emissions that they don’t matter. This exemption only serves to benefit CAFOs and will prevent local communities from accessing information critical to protecting public health.”

A copy of the complaint can be found here.


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Analysis Finds Toxic Levels of Arsenic in Neuse River Water Following H.F. Lee Coal Ash Spill


Water sampling of the Neuse River conducted on behalf of the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance following the coal ash spill at Duke Energy’s retired H.F. Lee Plant found levels of arsenic nearly 18 times higher than the North Carolina standard for drinking water supply and fish consumption.

The standard for drinking water supply and fish consumption is 10 micrograms per liter; testing from water sampled from the Neuse near the coal ash spills following Hurricane Florence was 186 micrograms per liter. The city of Goldsboro has a municipal water intake less than ten miles downstream from the plant.

The analysis, conducted by Pace Analytical, also found elevated levels of lead and other heavy metals in the water. That analysis can be found here.

The sample with the highest arsenic level came from a grey plume of ash in the river, which had poured over an actively eroding dam made of coal ash.

“Duke Energy continues to poison the Neuse River, while hiding behind water samples they collected six miles downstream from the inactive ash basins,” said Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr. “Our sample results, collected where the spill into the Neuse was happening, show that Duke could care less about reporting the truth and will continue to mislead the public until they are taken to task by Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper Organizations. The levels of arsenic that Duke has dumped into the Neuse through its continued mismanagement of its coal ash are alarming, and every time that Duke misleads the public about the true impact of its coal ash, they put our environment and communities at risk. North Carolinians deserve for Duke Energy to tell the truth and for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to hold them accountable.”

The lab analyzed two water samples and two coal ash samples from the flooded Neuse River. Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr collected the samples from a boat on the Neuse Wednesday, Sept. 19.

“It is very troubling that these ash ponds continue to release toxic pollution that harms aquatic life,” said Donna Lisenby, Waterkeeper Alliance’s manager of global advocacy.

Coal ash is a waste product from coal combustion; it contains heavy metals and other toxic compounds. One million tons of the coal ash stored at H.F. Lee in three inactive ponds were completely submerged by Florence’s floodwaters. Coal ash, the top source of toxic water pollution in the U.S., contains heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, and mercury.

Duke Energy also sampled the waters of the Neuse, but did so far downstream from the spills. North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality documented the spill as the river was receding and collected samples, but has not published its results yet. N.C. DEQ’s photos are here.

Waterkeeper Alliance and Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr discovered a similar coal ash release at H.F. Lee following flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. That leak dumped a one-inch thick layer of coal ash on the Neuse River.

The H.F. Lee plant came online shortly after World War II. The plant, which had three coal-fired units, was retired in 2012. Duke Energy owns 32 coal ash basins in North Carolina, all which are either adjacent to or within a half mile of a river or lake. The North Carolina coal ash ponds contained about 111 million tons of toxic coal ash as of August 2017, according to state estimates. There are more than 1,000 coal ash storage sites around the nation, according to EPA.

Even normal rainfalls have led to spills: Duke blamed an October 2017 spill in Cliffside on 3.74 inches of rain. Another spill from Cliffside in August 2016 spilled 15,000 to 50,000 gallons into the Broad River from a coal pile. Another release from Asheville, was caused by what Duke called “severe thunderstorms.”


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Conservation groups file lawsuit against transfer of oversight of toxic coal ash dumps from federal government to Oklahoma


WOTUS water transfers rule campaigns waterkeeper alliance epa

On behalf of Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Local Environmental Action Demanded (“LEAD Agency”), Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the U.S. EPA to block EPA from transferring federal oversight over disposal of toxic coal ash in Oklahoma to the state. The Oklahoma program runs directly counter to a federal court appeals court ruling the same organizations won that bans unlined toxic coal ash ponds from continuing to operate.

In a highly controversial move, the U.S. EPA in June approved a request by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to take over the oversight of toxic coal ash under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. As EPA was finalizing that decision, Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project released analysis revealing that all of the dumps containing “coal ash” waste generated by Oklahoma’s coal-fired power plants that tested nearby groundwater found toxic contamination.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma state agencies have a seriously deficient track record in protecting public health and the environment from the impacts of coal ash, prompting today’s lawsuit.  

The lawsuit identifies a number of specific problems with the coal ash program that the state of Oklahoma operates:

  • The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down key provisions of the federal coal ash program – all of which are included in the new Oklahoma program – because they were too weak to protect public health and the environment. That means Oklahoma’s plan contains unlawful provisions, including allowing unlined toxic coal ash ponds, such as the pond at A.E.P’s Northeastern coal plan in Oologah, to continue to operate.
  • Oklahoma’s program grants coal ash dumps permits “for life,” effectively shielding them from new public health requirements EPA develops in the future.
  • Oklahoma DEQ said it wanted to protect industry from citizen oversight, and that is what the state’s program does. DEQ officials make critical decisions about Oklahoman’s air and water – including how toxic coal ash dust pollution is controlled, how pollution from closed ash dumps is monitored, and, in some cases, how coal ash dumps will be closed – behind closed doors, with no public input or oversight.

Finally, the lawsuit also alleges that EPA violated federal law by failing to issue any public participation guidelines for state coal ash programs, and by approving Oklahoma’s coal ash program without first issuing those guidelines.

In response, Oklahoma Sierra Club Chapter Director Johnson Grimm-Bridgwater released the following statement:

“The State of Oklahoma is in no position, either financially or resource-wise, to take on such a monumental effort as managing coal ash. Coal ash disposal sites have already caused massive public health challenges in places like Bokoshe, Oklahoma, as well as groundwater contamination at sites across the state. Just this week a massive coal ash spill in North Carolina was caused by hurricane Florence, showing that massive coal ash dumps are risks in areas prone to storms or flooding. ODEQ’s budget has been slashed every year the last several years, and they have cut back staffing numbers repeatedly. Neither ODEQ nor any other state agency has a solid track record of managing coal ash, and they are not prepared to add on a new function to their environmental management responsibilities.”

Jennifer Cassel, attorney with Earthjustice, released the following statement:

“Time and time again, politicians in Oklahoma have chosen to ignore the health and safety of their own citizens. We fought hard to win a court ruling that rightly bans unlined coal ash ponds from continuing to operate, yet Oklahoma allows those dangerous ponds to do just that. Every single one of the coal ash dump sites that were tested in Oklahoma were found to have toxic chemicals from coal ash in nearby groundwater. It’s clear we need stronger protections from the hazardous chemicals in coal ash, not weaker ones.  EPA’s decision to transfer oversight over Oklahoma’s coal ash dumps to DEQ not only violates the law, it puts Oklahoma families at risk.”

Kelly Hunter Foster, senior attorney with Waterkeeper Alliance, released the following statement:

“State and federal laws are in place to protect Oklahoma citizens and their abundant, irreplaceable water resources, like the Verdigris and Grand Rivers, from toxic pollution caused by coal ash. Instead of implementing the law to protect the public, EPA and Oklahoma DEQ are openly trying to contort the law into a liability shield for industry. This is an attempt to preclude anyone injured by the pollution from taking action to protect themselves, turning the notions of rule of law and government in the public interest on their heads. That this was approved by former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, whose ties to polluters are so well documented, is no surprise at all.”

Earl Hatley, Grand Riverkeeper with LEAD Agency, released the following statement:

“This is egregious. The Grand River Dam Authority in Northeast Oklahoma has contaminated the groundwater in Northeast Oklahoma with arsenic and other contaminants since 2007. They’ve been out of compliance with Oklahoma’s CCR rule; demonstrating that Oklahoma can’t manage its CCR Rule. Lifetime permits of these coal ash units and the fact that states are being given discretion as to what to do about these units that contaminate the groundwater now rather than shutting them down and cleaning them up, leaves the public without any rights regarding this problem. LEAD Agency takes exception to this and is joining this lawsuit because we have the right to know. We have the right to comment, and no solid or hazardous waste management unit should ever be given a lifetime permit. Every other solid or hazardous waste management facility gets a five-year permit, with permit renewal, giving the public transparency. That’s how this should be handled, too. OK has just waived those rights for its citizens and EPA is turning its back on Oklahoma.”  

Rebecca Jim, executive director and Tar Creekkeeper with LEAD Agency, released the following statement:

“The State of Oklahoma is waging an undemocratic campaign to surrender the health and welfare of its citizens to big business. The human health consequences of coal ash are well established, as is the failure of corporations to effectively contain coal ash. Oklahomans have a right to be heard when the State decides where and how to store toxic coal ash. The State’s program relegates its citizens to the status of bystanders and victims, handing out ‘for life’ permits to unaccountable corporate polluters. It is time to hold the State to account for its abdication of the fundamental duties to protect its people and to allow them a voice in shaping what its government does.”


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Waterkeeper Calls for Stricter Coal Ash Storage Regulations in the Wake of North Carolina Spills


As the massive coal ash spill at Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton Power Plant contaminates the still-rising Cape Fear River, Waterkeeper Alliance is calling for more stringent national and state regulations on coal ash, the top source of toxic water pollution in the country.

“What concerns me most is that the Cape Fear River is projected to rise 4 more feet and make conditions much worse at the Sutton facility in the next 48 hours,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “The Cape Fear River is already flooded with millions of gallons of hog waste and other sources of pollution. Added to that are now untold amounts of coal ash actively spilling every hour from the Sutton coal ash ponds. There is an urgent need for both hog lagoons and coal ash ponds to be removed from the flood-prone areas near our rivers and lakes before the next climate change fueled superstorm hits us,” Burdette concluded.

“The breaches of the dry coal ash landfill at Sutton, which swallowed a bulldozer and a tractor, show us that not only are wet ash ponds a danger but so are landfills,” said Donna Lisenby, global advocacy manager at Waterkeeper Alliance.

“Cleaning up tons of toxic coal ash needs to be a much higher priority because we don’t need yet another lake or river flooded with tons of this toxic mess,” Lisenby said. “Pits full of coal ash have no place on a floodplain. Now that the Emory, Dan and Cape Fear rivers have suffered from these spills, it is past time for all utilities in the United States, especially Duke Energy, to remove this threat from our waterways.”

Waterkeeper Alliance staff and local Waterkeeper Organizations have been monitoring the coal ash landfill and ponds at the Sutton plant by plane, truck, and motorboat. They are collecting water samples to send to a state-certified lab to test for heavy metals and other toxins. Their photos and video are available here.

Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee site near Goldsboro, N.C. also had a coal ash spill in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Waterkeeper Alliance staff, along with Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matt Starr, French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson, and Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton documented multiple coal ash releases from the H.F. Lee facility on September 19.

“The spill at H.F. Lee was completely predictable and entirely preventable,” said Starr. “Duke continues to mislead the public about the threat posed by their coal ash storage, but two years after its coal ash spill during Hurricane Matthew, it is infuriating that we still are talking about those same ponds at Lee being under water again—without one shovelful of coal ash being moved.”

Hurricane Matthew in 2016 showed the vulnerability of Duke facilities to severe weather. But even normal rainfalls have led to spills: Duke blamed an October 2017 spill in Cliffside on 3.74 inches of rain. Another release from the Asheville airport structural fill in October 2017 was caused by what Duke called “severe thunderstorms.”

Duke Energy owns 32 coal ash basins in North Carolina, all of which are either adjacent to or within a half mile of a river or lake. The coal ponds contained about 111 million tons of toxic coal ash as of August 2017, according to state estimates. Coal ash contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, and mercury.

Waterkeeper Alliance reviewed EPA records of historical waste releases from coal ash ponds in North Carolina. Among them: A breach of an internal pond dike at the W.H. Weatherspoon Power Station in 2001; flooding that washed away waste at Cliffside Steam Station in 2005; and a pond breach at the Roxboro Power Station in 2008. On September 28, 2010, a coal ash pond dam failed at Sutton. Employees found the failure when they drove a truck into the breach. Approximately 10 cubic yards of coal ash was released from the breach estimated to be approximately eight feet deep and about 22 feet wide by 100 feet long. Photos of the 2010 breach at Sutton can be found here.

The Waterkeeper Alliance Rapid Response initiative provides trusted and independent information following disasters on our waterways. In a climate of lax federal regulations and budget cuts to state departments of environmental conservation, the need for Waterkeeper Organizations and Waterkeeper Affiliates to speak truth about the devastating impacts of water emergencies on communities has never been greater. Waterkeeper groups will remain involved as long as necessary in order to assure that proper clean-up, mitigation, and enforcement is completed.

**Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Waterkeepers Identify Multiple CAFO and Coal Ash Spills Following Hurricane Florence


Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups across North Carolina have identified multiple releases of pollution from industrial animal operations and coal-fired power plants as a result of flooding from Hurricane Florence.

Staff from Waterkeeper Alliance, Sound Rivers, Haw Riverkeeper, and French Broad Riverkeeper discovered multiple releases of coal ash from inundated ponds at Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee coal-fired power plant near Goldsboro, NC. Water samples from today’s investigation are expected to be analyzed within the week.

“Today we investigated, documented and collected water samples from multiple ongoing, active coal ash spills from HF Lee facility where 1 million tons of coal ash is now completely underwater. Half-mile Branch creek and the Neuse River flood waters are actively eroding the dam between the ponds and all three ponds are washing coal ash into the Neuse River,”  said Donna Lisenby, Global Advocacy Manager for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Coal ash will continue spilling every minute of every day from the HF Lee coal ash ponds until flood waters recede sometime later this week.”

Waterkeeper Alliance and Upper Neuse Riverkeeper discovered a similar coal ash release at the plant following flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Conditions at Lee are worse than they were in 2016.

“Yet again, the Neuse River is experiencing an ongoing coal ash spill. This not just an environmental concern, it is a concern for downstream communities as well, including Goldsboro which has a water intake less than 10 miles downstream,” said Matt Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper. “Like during Hurricane Matthew, Duke Energy has made inaccurate statements.  The tree cover is not preventing coal ash from being eroded and spilled into the Neuse River. Duke should have learned from Hurricane Matthew that the contents of these coal ash ponds need to be excavated and removed from the banks of the Neuse River, in order to protect our river and communities.”

Additionally, Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette discovered two breached hog lagoons, with their contents completely emptied, and dozens of inundated lagoons across the Cape Fear River Basin.

According to Burdette, “These cesspools of hog waste failed completely, spilling millions of gallons of untreated hog waste into floodwaters. Even worse, these contaminated waters will flow through communities downstream, threatening homes, churches, schools, and anything else in their path.”

Our partners at Environmental Working Group estimated, based on geospatial analysis, that two lagoons contained more than 7.3 million gallons of untreated swine waste. The larger cesspool stored more waste than was discharged by the spill of partially treated wastewater from the Southside Wastewater Treatment plant near Wilmington in the wake of Hurricane Florence. And, North Carolinians have seen significantly larger volumes of swine waste from a single lagoon breach, including the notorious discharge of more than 25 million gallons from a breached lagoon at Oceanview Farms in 1995.

Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups in the Carolinas are documenting the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Video and images are updated daily and are available here for download.

The Waterkeeper Alliance Rapid Response initiative provides trusted and independent information following disasters on our waterways. In a climate of lax federal regulations and budget cuts to state departments of environmental conservation, the need for Waterkeeper Organizations and Waterkeeper Affiliates to speak truth about the devastating impacts of water emergencies on communities has never been greater. Waterkeeper groups will remain involved as long as necessary in order to assure that proper clean-up, mitigation, and enforcement is completed.


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Cape Fear Riverkeeper Reports “ongoing failure” at Sutton


sutton florence hurricane coal ash spill

Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette, who is on site at Duke Energy’s Sutton Power Plant investigating breaches at the Sutton coal ash landfill, reports that there are at least two sections of the site with overflows. As of 9:45 a.m., both breaches were “very large,” according to Burdette, and a “waterfall’ actively pouring out.

Mr. Burdette said, “When I saw it at 9:45 am on Sunday morning September 16, the breach was not contained. It appears to be a major ongoing failure of their containment measures.  Every time we get a new band of showers and more rainfall, it will continue discharging. I am extremely concerned that this significant, ongoing discharge will eventually make it to the Cape Fear River just upstream of Wilmington.”

Video of Kemp at the site is here.

Duke Energy reported a release at the plant, which is in Wilmington, NC, around 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15. The release occurred when Hurricane Florence flood waters washed coal ash from a landfill near Lake Sutton.

Although 2,000 cubic yards of material was displaced—enough to fill 150 dump trucks—Duke Energy officials say they do not believe the spill will have an impact on the environment. However, they could not say if any coal ash washed into Sutton Lake, a popular spot for fishing and boating, or the Cape Fear River.

Coal ash contains high concentrations of toxins and heavy metals, such as arsenic, chromium, and mercury. Historically, Sutton coal ash ponds discharged arsenic, selenium, mercury, antimony, cadmium, chromium, lead, and zinc into Sutton Lake. A 2013 study by U.S. Forest Service Research Fish Biologist Dennis Lemly found that hundreds of thousands of fish in Sutton Lake suffered severe selenium-induced deformities, or had died because of selenium exposure. Duke’s own water- testing data showed there are high levels of groundwater radioactivity at 11 of 18 of its plants. Coal-fired power plants are the number one source of toxic water pollution, by volume, in America.

“Much as Duke Energy might try to spin otherwise, these heavy metals and leaks of radioactive water from their coal ash ponds are a fact,” said Donna Lisenby, global advocacy manager at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Toxic coal ash, radioactivity, and heavy metals shouldn’t be anywhere near the state’s lakes and rivers, nor should they be leaking into North Carolina groundwater and surface water daily,  as they are now, even on days when the rivers are low and the sun is shining.”

Duke Energy pled guilty to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act in May 2015. Since then, Duke has downplayed ongoing problems at its coal-fired power plants in reports to its federal court-appointed monitor, who oversees the company’s compliance with terms of its five-year probation.

Hurricane Matthew previously showed the vulnerability of Duke facilities to severe weather. But even normal rainfalls have led to spills: Duke blamed an October 2017 spill in Cliffside on 3.74 inches of rain. Another release from the Asheville airport structural fill in October 2017 was caused by what Duke called “severe thunderstorms.”

Waterkeeper Alliance reviewed EPA records of historical waste releases from coal ash ponds in North Carolina. Among them: A breach of an internal pond dike at the W.H. Weatherspoon Power Station in 2001; flooding that washed away waste at Cliffside Steam Station in 2005; and a pond breach at the Roxboro Power Station in 2008. On September 28, 2010, a coal ash pond dam failed at Sutton. Employees found the failure when they drove a truck into the breach. Approximately 10 cubic yards of coal ash was released from the breach estimated to be approximately eight feet deep and about 22 feet wide by 100 feet long. Photos of the 2010 breach at Sutton can be found here.

Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups in the Carolinas are documenting the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Video and images will be available here.

The Waterkeeper Alliance Rapid Response initiative provides trusted and independent information following disasters on our waterways. In a climate of lax federal regulations and budget cuts to state departments of environmental conservation, the need for Waterkeeper Organizations and Waterkeeper Affiliates to speak truth about the devastating impacts of water emergencies on communities has never been greater. Waterkeeper groups will remain involved as long as necessary in order to assure that proper clean-up, mitigation, and enforcement is completed.


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Waterkeeper Alliance responds to Sutton coal ash spill


WOTUS water transfers rule campaigns waterkeeper alliance epa

Following Duke Energy’s disclosure of a coal ash release at its L.V. Sutton Power Station outside Wilmington, N.C. on Sept. 15, 2018, Donna Lisenby, global advocacy manager of Waterkeeper Alliance, released the following statement:

“Duke Energy knows the toxic coal ash at 14 of its plants in North Carolina is a threat to our waters, but it slow-walked cleanups by spending millions on lobbying and legal fights. If Duke had used that money instead to clean up its coal ash sites and begin excavation of flood-prone coal ash ponds at H.F. Lee, Weatherspoon, and Cape Fear sooner, all those dangerous sites would be much further along by now.

“Coal ash contains high concentrations of toxins and bio-persistent heavy metals, such as arsenic, chromium, selenium, and the now-banned rat poison thallium. Duke’s own water- testing data showed there are high levels of groundwater radioactivity at 11 of 18 of its plants. Much as Duke Energy might try to spin otherwise, these heavy metals and leaks of radioactive water from their coal ash ponds are a fact. Toxic coal ash, radioactivity, and heavy metals shouldn’t be anywhere near the state’s lakes and rivers, nor should they be leaking into North Carolina groundwater and surface water daily, as they are now, even on days when the rivers are low and the sun is shining.”

Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups in the Carolinas are documenting the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Video and images will be available here.

The Waterkeeper Alliance Rapid Response initiative provides trusted and independent information following disasters on our waterways. In a climate of lax federal regulations and budget cuts to state departments of environmental conservation, the need for Waterkeeper Organizations and Waterkeeper Affiliates to speak truth about the devastating impacts of water emergencies on communities has never been greater. Waterkeeper groups will remain involved as long as necessary in order to assure that proper clean-up, mitigation, and enforcement is completed.

 


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org