Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory has written to Duke Energy to ask the company to turn over details of what it plans to do with coal ash ponds at 14 locations around the state, including one that spilled tons of toxin-laced material into the Dan River on Feb. 2.
The letter asks the company to turn over "plans for these facilities, including any options, priorities, alternatives, preliminary designs, cost estimates, or any other pertinent information you possess regarding Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress coal ash ponds."
McCrory, who co-signed the letter with Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla, asks the company to return the information by March 15.
Gov. McCrory's letter to Duke Energy "We're asking for information so that, if there's any kind of legislative response that's necessary, we can make an informed decision in time for session," said Josh Ellis, a spokesman for McCrory.
Senior lawmakers at the General Assembly have said they will push for legislation that would force Duke to dig up its coal ash ponds and move the material to landfills.
A proposed consent order in a lawsuit involving the state and Duke would have laid out time lines for two of the company's 14 coal ash facilities. Those lawsuits did not involve dramatic breaches like the Feb. 2 spill at the Dan River but the slow leaching of chemicals and heavy metals from the unlined pits in which Duke has stored the toxic slurry of coal residuals and water.
Ellis said the questions surrounding coal ash involve more than just the cleanup of Dan River. Rather, he said, the state wants to make sure there are no similar spills in the future.
"We’re asking Duke for any information that would help us make a better informed decision about the long-term future of all North Carolina coal ash ponds," Ellis said.
For its part, Duke has said it is working on such plans but has not laid out a timeline for when it would propose what to do with the ponds not involved the consent order. Company officials have said that the Dan River spill had prompted it to re-evaluate its plans for closing coal ash ponds.
"We will respond to the state and work to determine the most appropriate resolution," Duke spokesman David Scanzoni said in an email. "As we have stated, our company is taking another look at how we manage ash basins."
Environmental groups have been critical of the McCrory administration's work on coal ash but took Tuesday's letter as a positive step.
"It's an improved sign that the governor and DENR are finally waking up to the seriousness of the threat that Duke's coal ash storage poses in North Carolina," said Frank Holleman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which helped prod the state toward its initial legal actions and has been critical of the state's efforts on the topic.
But Holleman said that, even though the push for more information is good, he and his clients are looking for a call to action.
"We want them to actually clean it up and not drag their feet, appoint a committee, issue a press release....and so on. Just do the right thing. Actions will speak much louder than any words," he said.