Environmentalists raise objections to Duke pumping at Moncure coal ash pond

Posted March 17, 2014

— Advocates with the Waterkeeper Alliance say pictures they released Monday of workers for Duke Energy pumping water from a coal ash pond into a stream that feeds the Cape Fear River shows the company violating state and federal clean water rules. 

Duke officials don't dispute they were pumping the water, but they say they were allowed to do so for maintenance work under current permits for the pond, which is at a retired power plant in Moncure.

"To label the secret, unmitigated, intentional discharge of untold amounts of highly toxic wastewater as 'routine maintenance' seems ludicrous," said Peter Harrison of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Coal ash has been a subject in much in the news since Feb. 2. That's when a pipe running underneath a Duke coal ash pond near Eden ruptured, dumping up to 39,000 of ash into the Dan River.

Coal ash is material left over after coal is burned for fuel and contains toxins like selenium, mercury and arsenic.

Although the spill was a dramatic event, environmental groups, the state and Duke have been at odds for years over seepage from the coal ash storage ponds into local groundwater supplies, rivers and reservoirs. 

Since then, state regulators have been under fire for what environmental groups says is lax oversight of the utility giant. 

"Our inspectors noticed this pumping during an on-site inspection March 11, and we are investigating the utility’s actions. While routine maintenance is allowed under the permit, discharge of untreated wastewater could be a violation," said Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

David Scanzoni, a spokesman for Duke, said the company was using a "temporary pumping system to lower water levels in two basins at the Cape Fear Plant to perform upcoming maintenance." Scanzoni said this is ongoing work that began in the fall after the company notified DENR in August. 

"We had identified, through routine inspections, that maintenance was needed on the 'risers' – the vertical pipes that transfer basin water to the discharge system," Scanzoni said by email. "Our permit authorizes this type of maintenance specifically under the condition that we meet permit limits. The water was being pumped to the existing, permitted outfalls. Discharges from those permitted outfalls are monitored, and continued to be, throughout this process."

However, officials with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a network of activists who work to protect rivers and other waterways from pollution, say they don't believe the discharge was legal. 

"This was either illegal, unilateral action by Duke – or a quiet backroom deal with DENR. There is no evidence that any valid, publicly available permit allows them to discharge untold gallons of untreated concentrated coal ash wastewater," said Donna Lisenby, the Waterkeeper Alliance's Global Coal Campaign Coordinator.


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  • Matt Wood Mar 19, 2014
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    Pretty sure McCrory has the ability to direct DENR to establish specific regulations and penalties via executive order (as long as the regulations do not directly contradict general statute). He can also fire the DENR secretary and many others at will if they don't follow his direction.

  • Rebelyell55 Mar 19, 2014

    People shouldn't be surprised, Corp. being doing this type of thing since back in 1930 and 1940. The coal companies did it to our mountains even before strip mining with the help of our elected officals. It don't matter which party is in control.

  • Charles Harris Mar 18, 2014
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    This is what happens when deregulation occurs and oversight meant to protect citizens from corporate greed is taken away, restructured or eliminated all together.

    Perhaps those defending McCrory should at least listen to some of the facts pertaining to Coal-Ash Scandal before defending anyone. http://youtu.be/xkBLwhZWt30

  • btneast Mar 18, 2014

    [bthey have the gov behind what they do. They have the power.][/b] In NC, the power is in the legislature, NOT the Governor's office. The Governor is more of a figurehead ....Thom Tillis and Phil Berger have MUCH more power than McCrory. The Governor can suggest a lot of things, but he cannot make anybody or any company do anything.

  • btneast Mar 18, 2014

    Shouldn't DENR be sending DUKE instructions, and then seeing to it that Duke follows those instructions? DENR doesn't know what to tell them.....

  • Ty Shrake Mar 18, 2014
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    From the Univ. of Illinois:



    Levels of Ag (MDL = 8 ppb), As (MDL = 280 ppb), Cd (MDL = 24 ppb), Cr (MDL = 18 ppb), Hg (MDL
    = 40 ppb), Pb (MDL = 51 ppb) and Se (MDL = 490 ppb) were below method detection limits (MDL) for
    all LS ratios. Be, Cu, Fe, Sb, Sn, Ti, and TI levels were also below detection limits for all samples. The
    MDL is defined as the minimum concentration of a substance that can be identified, measured, and
    reported with a 99% confidence of a greater-than-zero concentration.


    The coal fly ash varieties examined in this study apparently are not likely to leach high concentrations of
    TCLP elements when disposed of in an ash monofill.


    It would be political suicide NOT to place the river off limits, no matter the facts on the ground.

  • bkstparkswm Mar 18, 2014

    Time to revisit the utility model in NC. A bloated monopoly has taken control of the utility commission through the governors mansion. Duke was fined $1m for killing a bald eagle out west yet in NC they flood our water ways with ash and get a $99k fine. From the tritium in Harris Lake to the ash in the Dan it is time for a change. Time to deregulate generation and let other more economically efficient and environmentally focused companies enter the market.

  • Matt Wood Mar 18, 2014
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    The fact that you perpetuate lies like " I haven't heard or seen to many libs say one negative thing" shows how you can't really be trusted to follow through, as I and several other liberal-leaning types on this forum have consistently acknowledged the mistakes of Democratic administrations. And we did it (and still do it) without the requirement that conservatives do it first. Yes, past administrations at both state and federal levels had their flaws, and on both sides of the aisle, but to continue to argue blame or "bargain" with unrelated issues is wasting time and money we don't have. This quid pro quo mentality has got to stop! Man up and address the problems without invoking political party or playing the blame game, or you're not even worth acknowledging.

  • 42_wral_mods_suck_i'm_gone Mar 18, 2014

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    Coal ash is NOT highly toxic BUT IT"S LEACHATE IS. Why did DEHNR (run by the GOP now) issue a statement not to come in contact with the Dan River?

  • Ty Shrake Mar 18, 2014
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    After studying coal-fired utility wastes in 1993, the EPA decided to permanently
    exclude large volume coal fired utility wastes, including fly ash, bottom ash,
    boiler slag and flue gas emission control waste from the definition of hazardous waste. (US EPA
    RCRA Orientation Manual, 2008).

    The EPA itself says that coal ash is NOT a hazardous waste.

    The article states that coal ash contains " toxins like selenium, mercury and arsenic." -- Yes, that's true. But what is does NOT tell you is that those compounds exist in coal ash in roughly the same densities and concentrations as they exist in common ground soil... the same stuff your food is grown in. You can ignore the facts if you like but it only hurts your argument.