State appeals coal ash cleanup order

Posted April 7, 2014
Updated April 8, 2014

A coal ash pond at the former Lee Steam Station near Goldsboro sits along the Neuse River.

— State Attorney General Roy Cooper filed notice Monday that the state will appeal a court ruling requiring Duke Energy to take immediate action to stop contamination seeping from its coal ash pits at 13 sites around the state.

Environmental advocates who filed the lawsuit say that's inconsistent with promises by state leaders to enforce state environmental laws against Duke.

The state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources has acknowledged it's known for years that many, if not all, of the unlined pits are leaching heavy metals and other contaminants into nearby groundwater but said it was working to determine the extent of the contamination and negotiate a clean-up plan with the utility.

In 2012, the state's Environmental Management Commission – a regulatory panel appointed by state lawmakers and the governor – ruled that North Carolina regulations for monitoring coal ash ponds do not require Duke to take any immediate action if tests of groundwater near ash ponds show contamination.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the groups Cape Fear Riverwatch, French Broad Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Waterkeepers Alliance, took the EMC ruling to court, arguing the panel had misinterpreted state law.

On March 6, Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway agreed with the environmentalists, ruling that the EMC had applied the wrong section of state regulations to the coal ash sites and ordering Duke to take immediate action to stop the contamination.

Duke asked Ridgeway to stay his ruling pending an appeal, but the judge refused in a March 20 ruling.

On Monday, Cooper filed noticethat the state would also appeal Ridgeway's ruling on behalf of the Environmental Management Commission.

It's hardly unusual for the Attorney General's Office to defend state regulatory bodies in legal cases. In fact, it's one of the office's primary functions.

However, SELC attorney D.J. Gerkin insists the appeal is inconsistent with the state's recent decision to abandon a controversial settlement with Duke over its coal ash pollution. The consent order would not have required Duke to stop its contamination, prompting critics of the deal to accuse DENR of allowing the utility to break the law.

DENR announced March 21 that it would drop the deal in the wake of Ridgeway's ruling. 

"Just a week after the state publicly abandoned its sweetheart deal with Duke and promised to enforce the law, it has appealed a judicial ruling that confirmed the state's legal authority to enforce a real solution for coal ash contamination," Gerkin said in a statement. "We’re disappointed that this administration remains so determined to delay through litigation rather than move forward to stop ongoing pollution of North Carolina's rivers, lakes and groundwater."

DENR has required Duke to produce comprehensive emergency and clean-up plans for all 33 of its coal ash lagoons in North Carolina but has not given the utility a timeline.


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  • baldchip Apr 10, 2014

    Duke needs to plug the leaks NOW!!!

  • Dorothy Peters Apr 9, 2014

    SAG Cooper, just remember you are elected! You need to go ahead and make Duke clean up their mess or you just might not have a job for much longer.

  • notexactly Apr 8, 2014

    View quoted thread


  • Taffy Apr 8, 2014

    Roy, Roy, Roy. Already turning in to a NC politician. Duke needs to immediately stop the contamination. It's not going to get any better on its own.

  • Jack Jones Apr 8, 2014

    Proves that McCrory is a puppet.
    Proves that Tillis is a puppet.
    Proves that Berger is a puppet.

  • dennis8 Apr 8, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Besides being untrue your assertion has nothing to do with this article.

  • Don Dickerson Apr 8, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Then explain the near total lack of effort to enforce immigration rules.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 8, 2014

    Notice that environmental groups are having to sue the Governor and his crony commissioners to clean up the environment. Drink that in...if you dare.

  • Michael Hart Apr 8, 2014

    View quoted thread

    My comment wasn't aimed at you per say, but the "State" comment in itself includes Cooper and Implies that he see's the same picture as the GOP, which he does not...that is all

  • tllight Apr 8, 2014

    DUKE and DENR are corrupt and in bed together....this will hurt Cooper come election time