Press Release | October 13, 2015

Conservation Groups Challenge NC’s Sweetheart Coal Ash Settlement with Duke Energy

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.

“The administration twisted a simple penalty dispute into a bad settlement that reneges on its promise to clean up every leaking coal ash pit across North Carolina and does nothing to clean up groundwater at ten sites where coal ash threatens our waterways and communities,” said DJ Gerken, managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the conservation groups in today’s challenge. “DEQ cut Duke Energy an amazing midnight deal—no real cleanup for the low, low price of $500,000 a power plant including multiple leaking coal ash pits, Duke Energy bought amnesty for all past, present and future violations of groundwater law across North Carolina, including at sites that were not even part of this case.”

In September, the state drew criticism by asking the Superior Court to stop its own coal ash enforcement cases and not order cleanups at three Duke Energy sites. The court concluded that clean ups should proceed at those sites over DEQ’s objection and that the remaining cases would go forward. Last year, the state was forced to abandon a widely criticized settlement proposal that would have allowed Duke Energy to study its coal ash pollution with no cleanup requirements.

“This latest sweetheart settlement shows what happens when Duke Energy and state bureaucrats get in a room together without public scrutiny,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Citizen action has produced cleanup commitments at seven dangerous, polluting coal ash sites in North Carolina so far, in spite of the state and Duke trying for years to block citizens from protecting our rivers, lakes, and drinking water. That’s why we are asking the court to ensure those efforts can continue.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the following citizen groups seeking judicial review of the settlement order: Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverwatch, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Dan River Basin Association, MountainTrue, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Roanoke River Basin Association, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Yadkin Riverkeeper. These groups are also represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center as plaintiff-intervenors in the coal ash enforcement cases currently pending in Superior Court to seek clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution from all 14 leaking Duke Energy sites across North Carolina.

For maps, photos, and a PDF of the appeal: www.southernenvironment.org/coal-ash-in-north-carolina

About Appalachian Voices:
Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental nonprofit organization committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Knoxville, Tn. and Washington, D.C.  www.AppalachianVoices.org

About Cape Fear River Watch:
Founded in 1993, Cape Fear River Watch works to protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy, and action.

About the Dan River Basin Association:
The Dan River Basin Association was created by residents to protect and promote the natural and cultural assets of the 3,300 square mile Dan River basin in Virginia and North Carolina through education, recreation and stewardship. www.danriver.org

About MountainTrue:
For 30 years, the Western North Carolina Alliance has been a trusted community partner, marshaling grassroots support to keep our forests healthy, our air and water clean, and our communities vibrant. WNCA empowers citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environment of Western North Carolina. www.wnca.org   https://twitter.com/wnca

About the Roanoke River Basin Association:
The Roanoke River Basin Association is a non-profit organization based in Danville, Virginia, whose mission is to establish and carry out a strategy for the development, use, preservation and enhancement of the resources of the Roanoke River system of lakes and streams in the best interest of present and future generations.  RRBA consists of hundreds of members, primarily located within the 410-mile-long Roanoke River basin in Virginia and North Carolina, including local governments; non-profit, civic and community organizations; regional government entities; businesses and individuals. http://prod.rrba.org/

About Sound Rivers:
Sound Rivers is home to the Neuse Riverkeepers, who protect, restore and preserve the Neuse River basin through education, advocacy and enforcement, in order to provide clean water for drinking, recreation and enjoyment to the communities that they serve.

About the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy:
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. www.cleanenergy.org

About Waterkeeper Alliance:
Founded in 1999 by environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and several veteran Waterkeeper Organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

About the Winyah Rivers Foundation:
The Winyah Rivers Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed. Our goal is to protect our community’s right to fishable, swimmable and drinkable water. We pursue this goal through education and advocacy programs in support of our mission to protect our river resources. These programs are developed and implemented to increase the scientific literacy of our community, including local decision makers, and to engage them in environmental stewardship and planning for river resource protections.

About the Yadkin Riverkeeper:
Yadkin Riverkeeper’s mission is to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action. It is aimed at creating a clean and healthy river that sustains life and is cherished by its people. To achieve this vision, it seeks to accomplish the following objectives: sustain a RIVERKEEPER® program, measurably improve water quality, reestablish native bio-diversity, preserve and enhance the forest canopy, bring legal action to enforce state and federal environmental laws, and teach and practice a “river ethic” of ecological respect to all ages. For more information, visit YadkinRiverkeeper.org or call 336-722-4949.

Press Contacts

DJ Gerken

Executive Director

Phone: 828-258-2023

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: ksullivan@selcnc.org