Environmental groups cite McCrory's Duke meeting in coal ash challenge

Posted January 11, 2016
Updated January 12, 2016

Coal ash is loaded into a truck so it can be carried away from a Duke Energy power plant and be dumped in a clay mine near Moncure.

— A trio of environmental groups trying to stop Duke Energy from storing coal ash in old clay mines located in Chatham and Lee counties are citing a recently disclosed high-level meeting between Gov. Pat McCrory and top Duke executives in their case.

Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump, EnvironmentaLEE and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League filed their motion Monday with the Office of Administrative Hearings. The groups are asking the court to overturn permits issued to Duke, saying the company should be held to higher standards than currently outlined by those permits.

In their amended complaint, the groups say that state officials failed to disclose the meeting either in prior public records requests by the groups or during discovery in the case. The meeting was first reported by WRAL News last week, although administration officials and a Duke spokeswoman declined to disclose exactly what was discussed.

McCrory, Donald van der Vaart, the administration's environment secretary, and the administration's general counsel met with Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good, as well as the company's general counsel and two other high-ranking executives just four days before permits to store coal ash in the Triangle-area clay mines were issued.

Therese Vick with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said Monday the "proximity of the meeting is important."

Coal ash is the material left over after burning coal to generate electricity. Although much of it is inert, it contains toxins, including mercury and arsenic. Although environmental groups have long pressed Duke to clean up unlined coal ash pits around the state, a Feb. 2, 2014, spill on the Dan River shined an intense spotlight on the issue. The plan to use clay mines to store ash removed from elsewhere around the state has sparked concern from both environmental groups and neighbors of the future storage sites.

Duke is not a party to the permit challenge.

Crystal Feldman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said, "Governor McCrory's administration is the first in North Carolina history to clean up coal ash and hold Duke Energy accountable for decades of environmental neglect. This is another example of special interest groups prioritizing politics over environmental protection."

The environmental groups' amended complaint alleges that the clay mine disposal permits "were discussed at the (dinner) meeting, and the DEQ Secretary either agreed to or was ordered to have his staff issue the permits on an expedited basis."

A decision in the larger case by Administrative Law Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter is pending. However, the environmental groups have asked for a chance to be heard in oral arguments regarding their motion.


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