DENR cites Duke Energy for illegal dumping at Moncure coal ash site

Posted March 20, 2014

An aerial photo by Waterkeeper Alliance shows Duke Energy pumping wastewater from a coal ash pond at a retired Moncure power plant into a tributary of the Cape Fear River.

— State regulators on Thursday cited Duke Energy for pumping an estimated 61 million gallons of wastewater from coal ash ponds at a retired power plant in Moncure into a tributary of the Cape Fear River.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources can levy fines for illegal discharges but it must first give Duke 30 days to respond to the citation.

Advocates with the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance released aerial photos Monday showing Duke workers pumping water from a coal ash pond into a canal that feeds a stream that flows into the Cape Fear River. 

Duke officials don't dispute they were pumping the water, but they say they were allowed to do so for maintenance work under permits for the pond.

DENR officials said the pumping went beyond what was needed for maintenance.

“We were notified by phone in August that Duke Energy intended to conduct routine maintenance work at these ash ponds,” Tom Reeder, director of the state Division of Water Resources, said in a statement. “The state’s investigation revealed that the pumping activities ongoing at this plant far exceeded what would reasonably be considered routine maintenance.”

The pumping bypassed vertical spillways that allow more concentrated ash – the toxic material left after coal is burned for fuel – to settle to the bottom of the pond and lowered the level of the ponds so much that the impoundments no longer properly function as treatment systems, DENR officials said.

Logs kept by the company show that Duke pumped periodically from one ash pond since September and from a second ash pond since January, DENR said. The agency used the logbooks and aerial photos to estimate the amount of wastewater pumped into the canal.

DENR inspected the Moncure ash ponds in December, when a worker noticed parts of a disconnected pump sitting next to one ash pond. At the time, Duke told the inspector that it planned to do some maintenance, but DENR officials said the utility didn't mention it had already been pumping for months.

State inspectors revisited the site on March 11, and the pumps were still set up but weren't operating at the time. The pumps have since been removed, DENR officials said.

Regulators have stepped up inspections of coal ash ponds in the wake of a Feb. 2 ash spill from a Duke plant near Eden that fouled 70 miles of the Dan River. DENR is trying to collect as much information as possible to guide its future decisions on how the handle ash ponds, officials said.

Officials have notified downstream cities of the illegal pumping and are collecting water samples from the Cape Fear River for testing. None of the cities downstream have reported problems meeting federal drinking water standards.


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • babbleon Mar 21, 2014

    This needs to stay high on the front page - only media spotlight or federal attention is going to get any action in this arena.

  • leeloo67 Mar 21, 2014

    I'm sure Shearon Harris is safe though...

  • whatelseisnew Mar 21, 2014

    So do you Government loving folks still think the Government is your FRIEND. Sadly all the people at Duke and in Government both now and over the past few decades will not go to jail, nor will most of their crimes be discovered. Too bad we did not have an unbiased AG. He will not be much interested in uncovering the past misdeeds of Democrats and that of course will ensure he does not push too hard to uncover recent misdeeds on the part of the Government. Of course Duke will be pursued as they should be, but so should the legislature past and present and so should the past and present state administrators and agencies and political leaders. You might remember the last big bill that pushed for alternatives and was done during Bev's turn. The chair of the committee responsible for that bill let it be known that the lawyers for the POWER companies wrote a lot of that bill. It was quite despicable and that chair should have resigned from office.

  • cruzinlong Mar 21, 2014

    DENR's " customer friendly" approach is starting to catch up with them.

  • Garry Spears Mar 21, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Get those people a tall glass of water from the Dan river and when they drink every last drop I'll believe them.

  • Rebelyell55 Mar 21, 2014

    The one group with any power for immediate action is the utility com. and they aren't doing anything, except maybe worrying about the Fed's investigation. Our elected officals are just doing "stump" speeches. Because of this Duke seem to think they're Ok for now and any action taken won't carry much consequence for them. The investigation done by WRAL shows how they create their own policy in billing some with unannounce deposits. But all that did is show how shady the company is and how much power they have. There was no follow up showing anyone getting the bill reduced. Either pay or lose power. The Gov.and Utility Com. can do something right now, but they have got to want to do it.

  • Marty Martin Mar 21, 2014
    user avatar

    Wait! -- did folks voting for McCrory actually believe FEWER regulations would actually protect our air and drinking water?!

  • 42_wral_mods_suck_i'm_gone Mar 21, 2014

    This has been going on for years. Sounds like DEHNR needs more inspectors not less. How about McCrory increase staff at DEHNR rather than reducing it.

  • Paul Edwards Mar 20, 2014
    user avatar

    Sorry folks. Duke Energy is much larger than the DENR. They may pay a token penalty which will be recovered by payments from the energy users. What's the state going to do? Tell Duke they can't operate in NC? Not likely. No one wants to go back to candle power and wood heat.

  • miseem Mar 20, 2014

    But I thought coal ash was not toxic. At least that's what some people have been claiming over the last few weeks. So what's the problem?