Judge questions 'beneficial use' of coal ash dump

Posted December 7, 2015

— A state judge on Monday questioned why environmental regulators granted permits for Duke Energy to dump coal ash from its power plants into open-pit clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties.

The state Department of Environmental Quality in June approved the sites to accept coal ash as "engineered structural fill." Duke started moving ash to the Brickhaven mine near Moncure in October and is expected to start dumping ash at the Colon site near Sanford next year.

Coal ash is the material left after coal is burned for fuel. While the bulk of it is inert, it does contain heavy metals and other toxins, including arsenic, chromium, selenium and mercury, that can harm fish, wildlife and people.

After a ruptured stormwater line under an ash pit in Eden dumped tons of sludge into the Dan River last year, lawmakers ordered Duke to close all of its ash pits statewide by 2029 and created a state commission to oversee the process.

"This is just one step of many over many years that will be taken to take care of the entire problem," Edward Mussler, solid waste permitting supervisor of DEQ's Division of Waste Management, said of burying ash in the clay mines.

Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump and Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League challenged the legality of the state permits, arguing that the clay mines are more akin to solid waste landfills than mine reclamation projects and should meet the stiffer design, construction and operational regulations of a landfill.

"It will affect the community with their wells and the property values," Sanford resident Keely Puricz said Monday. "Who wants to be living next to a five-story toxic dump? That’s what it is. Let’s call it what it is. It is a dump."

"We know that the people living near the site have seen these clouds of coal ash. When they dump it, there’s coal ash in the air," Moncure resident Judy Hogan said.

Administrative Law Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter said she needs more information on why the state granted permission for ash to be put in the mines as a "beneficial use," saying she wants to know what that benefit is expected to be.

DEQ officials said the ash will fill the mines, leveling the ground so it could be developed later. Officials also disputed environmentalists' claims that the ash would pollute the water and air nearby.

"It would provide a nice, open space. It is designed where somebody could build something on top of it," Mussler said.

The groups say that nothing can be built on top of the mines because of the need for lines to contain the ash and because of the grade of the sites above the surrounding land.

The hearing is expected to continue Tuesday, and there is no timetable for Lassister to issue a ruling in the case.


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  • Therese Vick Dec 9, 2015
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    The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has manipulated the permitting process in order to get these sites out from under more stringent solid waste landfill permitting rules. The rules for municipal landfills require more opportunities for public participation, local government approval , different hydrogeological studies, more groundwater monitoring wells, environmental justice considerations, a review of community and private drinking water wells near the facility, and more. The testimony yesterday demonstrated that this is not mine reclamation, and an email entered into evidence on Monday demonstrates that the DEQ knows that. Toxic coal ash is being forced on the people of Lee and Chatham Counties by Duke Energy, and the only way that could happen is if the DEQ doesn't play by the rules. It takes YEARS to permit a solid waste landfill. The permits for these two sites were issued in MONTHS.

  • Rhiannon Fionn Dec 8, 2015
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    When I speak to people in the beneficial reuse industry, that phrase, "beneficial reuse" means the reuse of coal fly ash waste in something else. In fact, many of them describe their work as recycling. So, the reuse of coal ash in concrete or asphalt, or mining it for rare earth minerals.

    When we talk about industrial waste ponds and landfills I almost always get this response: "Stop throwing it away!"

    There are plenty of companies out there who reuse coal ash for something society needs. Take concrete: The use of coal ash displaces Portland cement, the creation of which generates a lot of CO2. Without getting too technical, the coal ash bonds with the other ingredients in the concrete to make for a harder product that has to be replaced less frequently, a benefit that's often pitched as good for tax payers et al because of cost-savings related to not having to replace the stuff so often. - Rhiannon Fionn, Coal Ash Chronicles.

  • Russell Chapman Dec 7, 2015
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    Do these people in Moncure realize they have been living near unlined ash ponds since the early 1900's? The Cape Fear plant is right there and has several ash ponds that are not lined and are right next to the river. And when I say right next to the river, I mean within less than 100 yards. While these lined clay puts are not the best, they are certainly better than nothing. Several of the people who live near these puts were once employed by the plant itself.