Stuck in the mire: NC's coal ash response slowed by political battles
Posted November 1, 2016
Updated November 4, 2016
Like the substance itself, the coal ash story is made of up of many constituents: legal, environmental, economic, public health and political.
Over the next decade, as deadlines near and specific site plans for dealing with the ash are up for review, policy makers face the challenge of weighing each as they make a critical set of choices on how coal ash sites are decommissioned and where, if anywhere, the ash will go.
What happened at the Dan River in February 2014 illustrated in all-too-vivid fashion what can happen when things go wrong. Less clear at this point is how to make sure things go right.
There are 33 impoundments holding more than 100 million of tons of coal ash in 14 locations around North Carolina. Several are still active, but most are no longer used. Some are covered with vegetation. A few sit in marshes below the water line. None is lined and, like the current and former power plants that generated the ash, nearly every one is within a few hundred yards of a major river or tributary.
They are the legacy of an era of plentiful fuel and cheap power. The technical term for what is in the impoundments is "coal combustion residuals." They're what's left over after coal is crushed and burned. The estimated 107 million tons at the 14 sites is not entirely uniform, burned and processed in different eras under different combustion methods. The toxicity of coal combustion residuals has been the subject of an ongoing debate with enormous pressure on both sides of the equation. Although studies have shown it to be the source of a range of regulated metals, the ash itself has never been deemed a hazardous waste, but federal and state regulators are beginning to tighten requirements.
Dan River spill brought coal ash issues to public attention
The most natural starting point for the contemporary discussion of coal ash in North Carolina is Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, the day a stormwater pipe collapsed and started to drain 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden, N.C.
But the 2014 spill was by no means the beginning of the story. Questions about what to do with the millions of tons of coal ash building up in basins across North Carolina started long before. In the decade prior to Dan River, there were a handful of incidents around the state, including smaller spills, leaks and seeps, and dams overtopped in floods. A major spill in Tennessee in 2008 had also raised public awareness.
In early 2014, what to do about Duke’s coal ash basins was shaping up to be a long, protracted legal battle.
Just two years before, environmental groups began a push through the courts to force the state’s hand on enforcement on coal ash basins leaking into groundwater and surface waters. They threatened to sue under the Clean Water Act. State regulators responded by suing Duke Energy themselves and then negotiating a settlement with the company that included no mandate for cleanup and $99,111 in fines for years of non-compliance.
The proposal drew criticism from environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency who expected a far stronger penalty. It also fanned concerns that the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a long-time Duke Energy employee, was too cozy with the state’s largest utility.
The offer was still on the table when the stormwater pipe at the former Eden plant gave way.
No one knows for certain just when on Feb. 2 the first rush of coal ash surged into the Dan River, but that’s the point on the timeline when a mostly-behind-the-scenes fight over coal ash regulation turned into a full blown public crisis.
By mid-day the damage was just starting in an environmental catastrophe that would lead to a federal investigation, several lawsuits, the largest fines for environmental violations in state history and a difficult reversal in strategy for the country’s largest investor-owned power company.
Timeline: Before Dan River
1985: Water that passes through coal ash basins at Progress Energy’s Belews Creek plant is found to have absorbed enough selenium that the chemical is blamed for the elimination of nearly all species of fish in Belews Lake in Stokes County.
1988: The state issues an advisory to avoid eating fish from Hyco Lake after studies show high levels of selenium from coal ash sources there as well.
October 2005: A coal ash basin is flooded and a berm damaged at Duke Energy’s Cliffside plant on the border of Cleveland and Rutherford counties.
December 2008: A coal ash basin dam collapse at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant in Kingston, Tenn., releases millions of tons of coal ash and water. The event draws national attention to concerns about the safety of the impoundments.
September 2010: A section of the dam at a coal ash impoundment collapses at Progress Energy’s L.V. Sutton plant near the Cape Fear River in New Hanover County. The spill flows away from the river and is contained on site.
July 2012: Duke Energy and Progress Energy merge.
October 2012: A coalition of North Carolina environmental groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center files legal action over continued groundwater contamination at coal ash sites.
January-March 2013: In a series of legal actions, SELC files notice that it intends to sue Duke Energy for Clean Water Act violations at its Riverbend, Asheville and Sutton plants. The actions trigger a 60-day window under which the state can pre-empt the cases by taking action.
May 2013: State environmental regulators file their own lawsuits charging Duke with violations of the Clean Water Act.
July 2013: The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now the Department of Environmental Quality) proposes a settlement that does not require cleanup of the sites and issues Duke a $99,111 fine for previous violations.
Coal ash flow slowly pollutes for 70 miles
The spill was a slow-moving event. The flow of coal ash and water into the Dan River went on for six days, and the ash basins weren’t fully sealed off until nearly 20 days later. The plume of ash moved at just a few miles per hour downstream leaving deposits of varying depth in calmer parts of the river as heavier particles drifted to the riverbed.
As the ash progressed downriver toward the public water intakes at Danville, Va., and Henderson it was tracked and documented by growing numbers of local, state and federal agencies, company engineers, news crews and environmental organizations.
Timeline: The slow-moving spill
February 2, 2014: Around 2 p.m., a security guard at the recently retired Dan River generating plant notices a drop in the level of one of two coal ash ponds located near the river. The guard notifies workers at a nearby Duke natural gas generating plant. The company begins notifying municipalities downstream of the spill and contacts the state Division of Emergency Management. Company repair crews arrive at the scene that afternoon.
February 3: Duke crews work through the night to assess the damage and place a boom on the river to contain some of the spill. In the morning, they contact Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials, who inspect the site.
DENR begins water sampling, contacts the Environmental Protection Agency and notifies more communities downstream. The plume is expected to reach Kerr Lake. DENR and Duke each issue statements announcing the spill to the public.
Although the flow slowed significantly, early estimates by the company are that between 50,000 and 80,000 tons could have gone into the river.
February 4: Initial EPA and DENR testing shows water quality near the spill is within state requirements. Workers at the Danville, Va., water treatment plant report success in filtering out the ash. Crews experience difficulties moving equipment into the area because of unstable ground.
February 5: The flow from the coal ash basin slows further, and a temporary berm is constructed.
February 6: Environmental groups say sampling results show elevated levels of some metals near the spill. Further DENR studies concur, and DENR revises its earlier analysis, deciding the earlier samples did show higher than acceptable levels of arsenic.
February 8: Engineers install a cement plug in the stormwater drain, sealing off the main source of coal ash and water from the basin.
February 9: State health officials warn residents to stay away from the Dan River and avoid eating fish downstream from the spill site.
February 12: Duke changes its estimate of the total amount spilled to a range of 30,000 to 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 to 27 million gallons of wastewater.
February 14: State inspectors discover a second, smaller pipe leaking coal ash from the site.
February 18: A DENR assessment shows coal ash constituents leaching into groundwater and then flowing into the river at the site. The agency estimates that coal ash has spread up to 70 miles downstream.
February 21: Engineers plug the second pipe at the site.
Blame game begins as leak is capped
Fallout from the Dan River spill was swift and widespread. Images of a thick, gray sludge flowing through the river heading toward the Kerr Lake reservoir drove the story. State actions came under scrutiny, starting with concerns over a communication breakdown that led to almost a day’s delay in notifying DENR and a two-day delay in announcing the spill to the public. As the cost of the spill began to mount, the state’s proposed settlement with Duke over coal ash suits drew more fire and put McCrory’s decades-long ties to Duke Energy in sharp focus. A week after news of the spill broke, DENR asked that the settlement be put on hold.
Immediately after the spill, federal agencies were called in. EPA on-scene coordinators were part of a unified command structure overseeing the response along with personnel from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DENR, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Duke Energy.
While the spill scene was still active, another federal agency got involved.
In the wake of Associated Press reports delving into the proposed Duke settlement, federal prosecutors issued a series of subpoenas to both DENR and Duke for records and documents related to the oversight of the coal ash impoundments. In all, 18 state environmental agency officials were called to testify before a grand jury.
The McCrory administration fired back against charges it was too cozy with Duke with then-DENR secretary John Skvarla, now the Secretary of Commerce, at the point. At a press conference on the same morning that a new wave of federal subpoenas were reported, Skvarla said he welcomed the federal investigation. He blamed past Democratic administrations for ignoring coal ash and defended the Duke settlement as the first enforcement action of its kind. He dismissed criticisms of a backroom deal with Duke and noted that DENR had reinspected dams at coal ash sites and tightened enforcement.
He also said he would work with the environmental groups that had brought suits, but said their demand for excavation and removal of ash at all 14 sites was too broad and not possible.
McCrory's ties with Duke would come into focus again later in the year when the governor's office disclosed that he had sold previously undisclosed holdings in Duke stock after the spill. McCrory blamed the failure to disclose the stock on a misunderstanding of reporting timelines. The amount of the sale, which took place between February and May of 2014, was in excess of $10,000.
Within a month of the spill, the focus shifted from the short-term crisis to long-term outcomes.
Leaders in the General Assembly, due back in session in May, began hearings to start work on a comprehensive coal ash bill, while the administration started to put together an action plan of its own.
Meanwhile, legal actions were still moving slowly through state courts. One month after the last leaking pipe at Dan River was sealed, Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled in a groundwater contamination lawsuit brought a year earlier by SELC that under state law Duke would have to remove the source of the contamination. He ordered that “immediate action” be taken by the company on a plan to remove the ash.
Timeline: Environmental agencies rush to respond
February 3, 2014: DENR officials request assistance from the EPA to manage the incident at the Dan River and provide technical support for water sampling.
February 9: DENR and EPA announce the discovery of a large coal ash deposit just downstream from the spill, estimated to be about 300 cubic yards.
February 10: DENR asks for a delay in the proposed settlement with Duke over four previous coal ash lawsuits. Federal prosecutors issue first round of subpoenas.
February 11: State and federal officials hold the first in a series of community meetings in affected areas. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves plans for removing ash deposits in the river.
February 17: At a legislative hearing, Duke officials apologize for the spill. Legislators review changes to state reporting requirements for wastewater spills.
February 19: In an interview on WRAL, McCrory says he believes coal ash at the Dan River site and other sites should be moved. At the spill site, DENR orders Duke to stop using a second pipe at Dan River, calling it an unauthorized discharge.
February 25: McCrory and Skvarla send a letter to Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy, requesting the company provide information and any plans for all of its coal ash ponds by March 15.
February 28: DENR sends Duke notice that it will face fines over the discharge at Dan River.
March 3: DENR reports that it has sent Duke notices of violations for six plants that lack pollution discharge permits. News reports on emails between Duke and state regulators obtained by SELC during discovery in one of its lawsuits show ongoing conflicts over the permits.
March 12: In a letter to McCrory and Skvarla, Good lays out Duke’s plans to resolve the permits issue, remove ash at Sutton, Riverbend and Asheville, and dewater all ponds at retired plants.
March 20: DENR announces a notice of violation to Duke for pumping 61 million gallons of water from coal ash impoundments into the Cape Fear River at its facility near Moncure.
March 21: DENR announces it will seek formal approval to drop its settlement with Duke citing Ridgeway’s order as one reason for the move.
April 7: The state appeals Ridgeway’s ruling saying the Environmental Management Commission does not have the authority to force Duke to remove coal ash.
April 16: McCrory announces a comprehensive coal ash plan calling for the closure of all 33 coal ash impoundments and asking the legislature to approve changes in state environmental laws and a budget increase to hire an additional 19 positions at DENR.
Lawmakers, McCrory clash over coal ash cleanup plan
Given the legal fights, there was a chance even prior to the Dan River spill that the legislature would get involved in the coal ash controversy.
In the 2013 session, a bill creating a coal ash study commission was introduced in the House. Although it went nowhere, it was significant because it was introduced by Republican Majority Leader Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, who had worked as an engineer at several Duke facilities, and Rep. Nathan Ramsey, a first-term Republican from Buncombe County where concerns were growing over the coal ash ponds at Duke’s Asheville plant.
The legislature tightened dam safety rules in 2009 after the Tennessee spill, eliminating an exemption that covered the coal ash impoundments.
Following the February 2014 spill there was little doubt that coal ash legislation would be a major part of that year’s session.
On Feb. 17, 2014, the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission, a joint House and Senate group that oversees environmental agencies and develops legislation held its first hearings on what went wrong at Dan River. Also under review was a Burlington wastewater spill on the Haw River that happened the same weekend. In both cases there was confusion about reporting requirements and whether local water systems were alerted in time as to what was coming downstream. One immediate outcome of the meeting was a proposed revision to the law tightening public notice requirements after spills.
By the time the 2014 short session was convened in April, the ERC had an outline for future legislation, and early in the session Senate leaders advanced a bill based on the governor’s plan. It called for removal of the ash at Asheville, Sutton in New Hanover County, Riverbend near Charlotte and the Dan River facility.
The State Senate modified the plan extensively, considered 15 separate floor amendments and passed it 45-0 on June 26, a few days before the fiscal year ran out. The House, ready with its modifications took it up the next week and passed its version 94-16 considering 28 floor amendments, many of which were aimed at adding a particular set of impoundments to the list of priority sites. Those amendments failed, but they underlined the extent of local concerns over each site.
The bill went into conference in mid-July and didn’t emerge until late August, caught up in a budget stalemate between the two chambers.
The final version of the bill contained much of what the governor asked for, but also a key element that he’d threatened to veto behind the scenes: the creation of a Coal Ash Management Commission, a nine-member board with six members appointed by the legislature and three by the governor. McCrory said the commission represented legislative interference in executive branch functions.
At one point during the session, Bob Stephens, the governor’s chief council, paid a visit to lawmakers to bluntly warn them that the governor was ready to go to court if they kept the commission in the bill.
Senate Bill 729, The Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, passed on Aug. 20, and it became law without the governor's signature a month later. Six weeks later, the governor, joined by former Governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin filed suit against Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis charging that the Coal Ash Management Commission mandated in the law violated the state constitution’s separation of powers requirements.
The commission met officially twice. The first meeting was in Chapel Hill on the day after the governors’ suit was filed. Six of its members, the legislative appointees, also were named in the suit.
After an awkward swearing-in ceremony in which all members present attempted to put their hands on a single Bible held by Justice Paul Newby, they received a briefing on dam safety plans and details about how water is removed from a coal ash basin. The commission held another meeting in January 2015 to discuss possible commercial uses for coal ash, a mandate in the Coal Ash Management Act and an area the state continues to pursue.
That meeting proved to be its last. In mid-March 2015, a three-judge panel invalidated all six legislative appointments. The commission, funded independently by a levy on Duke revenues, continued to develop materials and consider future staff appointments but could not achieve a quorum and could not meet until the matter was ultimately decided by the state Supreme Court. The governor’s three appointees and a small staff moved forward through 2015 and produced an overview of the reuse of coal ash.
The state Supreme Court supported McCrory in a decision handed down in January, 2016, and the governor formerly disbanded the commission last March.
During the Spring 2016 legislative session, there was one more attempt to revive the commission using a different balance of appointments. This time McCrory did veto the bill. He later worked out a deal with Senate leaders that dropped the commission concept. The bill cleared the House, but without the support of Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the main author of the bill McCrory vetoed as well as 2014 legislation. McGrady argued that another layer of oversight was necessary.
In 2015, while the legal controversies swirled, DENR pressed ahead with its role under the Coal Ash Management Act. Among the assigned tasks were the classification of the sites, which would set the standards for remediation and closure, and testing of private wells around coal ash sites to determine if the water was safe to drink. Both would prove controversial.
Legislative timeline: New laws, new disagreements on the way forward
February 6, 2014: Senate leader Phil Berger, whose district includes the Dan River spill site, sends a letter to the legislature’s Environmental Review Committee calling for comprehensive coal ash legislation.
February 10: Senator Tom Apodaca, a top member of the Senate leadership, calls for excavation and removal of coal ash at Asheville and other sites.
February 17: At the first legislative hearing on the Dan River spill, Duke officials offer an apology, riverkeepers report their concerns and DENR sketches out the way forward.
April 9: ERC firms up new language on public notices requiring any spill of more than 1,000 gallons be reported within 24 hours.
May 14: Apodaca and Berger file S729, initially titled “The Governor’s Coal Ash Action Plan.” McCrory sends his proposed state budget adjustments to the legislature adding 19 positions at DENR to handle coal ash issues.
June 16: Senate leaders roll out a new version of S729, now called the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, which includes closure deadlines for the four priority sites and an extensive regulatory structure for coal ash under a new Coal Ash Management Commission. The bill includes greater details on how sites will be ranked and tighter deadlines than the governor’s plan. Duke executives say the deadlines will be difficult to meet. During hearings on the bill, Bob Stephens, the governor’s chief counsel says McCory will challenge the commission’s authority in court.
June 25: The Senate passes S729 by a vote of 45-0.
July 2-3: Just prior to the July 4 recess, the House introduces its version of S729. It passes 94-16. Sponsors fend off amendments to limit costs to consumers and expand the number of high-priority sites, arguing it’s more important to start cleanup work and address those issues later.
July 14: The Senate fails to concur with the House version and the bills become part of a larger, protracted House and Senate budget disagreement that takes almost a month to work out.
August 19: House and Senate negotiators say they’ve reached a deal, and both chambers adopt a revised version of S729. McCrory declines to sign the bill.
September 20: The Coal Ash Management Act becomes law without the governor’s signature. As promised, McCrory files a lawsuit challenging the authority of the commission in November.
December 10: Despite the governor’s lawsuit, the ERC receives its first update from the Coal Ash Management Commission along with reports from Duke, DENR and the state’s Environmental Management Commission focusing on potential uses for the coal ash as an alternative to disposal.
March 30, 2015: The legislature passes legislation modifying the distribution of fees collected from Duke to fund the Coal Ash Management Commission, shifting 73.5 percent of the fees collected to DENR. The commission remains in legal limbo after a court ruling rejecting the appointment of the majority of its members.
June 16: The Mountain Energy Act passes. Introduced by Apodaca, the bill gives Duke a deadline extension to complete excavation work and removal work at Asheville to allow for conversion of the plant to natural gas.
September 19: DENR becomes the Department of Environmental Quality under a broad reorganization plan in the state budget.
May 11, 2016: With newly released rankings from DEQ requiring cleanup and excavation at all sites and a controversy over do-not-drink notices in the air, the House, led by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, considers new coal ash legislation. The bill would reconstitute the now disbanded Coal Ash Management Commission.
May 25: The House passes S71, which revives the Coal Ash Management Commission and sets up requirements for Duke to provide alternative water supplies to residents on private wells near the sites.
May 30: After the Senate approves its version of S71, a conference committee quickly hammers out differences in the bill and both chambers approved the new plan.
June 6: McCrory vetoes the new bill saying he still objects to the commission. McGrady asserts the commission is needed as an extra layer of oversight. To avoid an override vote, Senate leaders begin negotiations with the governor’s office.
June 28: Apodaca introduces H630, the Drinking Water Protection and Coal Ash Cleanup Act, a new version of S71 without the commission language. The Senate passes it that day. It would allow some sites to be reclassified as low risk if nearby residents are provided an alternative water supply and dams are certified as safe. The low risk classification could allow some sites to be capped in place.
June 30: The House approves the new bill 82-32 with McGrady among those voting against it.
July 14: McCrory signs H630 into law.
Work begins, but solutions for downriver residents still nowhere in sight
The coal ash legislation passed in 2014 after the Dan River spill calls for closure of the impoundments at all 14 sites. Duke Energy has committed to moving ash from seven sites, but the exact details at each won’t be known until closure plans are submitted. The law also requires public comments and review of the plans and gives DEQ the final say.
How the sites are classified is critical to the closure plans. Closure plans for high- and intermediate-risk sites must include excavation and removal of ash to a lined landfill. Plans for sites classified as low risk could include drying out the impoundment, installing an impermeable liner over it and leaving the ash in place.
Right now, seven sites could qualify for a cap-in-place plan under the new law passed this year. To qualify as low-risk Duke must provide an alternative water supply, obtain pollution discharge permits and meet conditions set out by DENR on dam safety. The company has until July 1, 2018, to meet those requirements. If it does, the sites will be automatically reclassified as low-risk.
The water supply issue has been the subject of intense debate since a disagreement between DEQ and state public health officials became public in early 2016 after the Department of Health and Human Services issued and then rescinded thousands of do-not-drink advisories to residents near coal ash impoundments. The fight led to the resignation of the state epidemiologist over what she called political interference by the administration.
To meet the dam safety requirements under the law, Duke has stepped up repairs at 16 impoundments the state has cited as having deficiencies that could compromise their integrity. In a dam safety order issued August 22, the state’s Division of Energy, Minerals, and Land Resources, which has jurisdiction over dam safety, gave Duke until the end of the year to fix problems at all 16 dams.
The discharge permits may prove the stickiest of all because of a controversial plan by DEQ to include numerous seeps and leaks from the dams in the permits. Environmental organizations, which have complained for years that the seeps are unpermitted discharges, are contemplating a legal action over the issue.
On the ground, removal plans continue to move forward at priority sites. As of Sept. 25, 7.69 million tons of ash had been moved. Close to half of the 3.7 million tons excavated from a coal ash basin near Lake Julian in Asheville was used as fill material during an expansion at Asheville Regional Airport. The rest was buried in new landfills, including two at former brick mines in Lee and Chatham counties.
The coal ash story continues to play out in unexpected ways. A study released this week by Duke University researchers showed high background levels of hexavalent chromium in groundwater in several regions in North Carolina. The most poisonous form of chromium, the compound was responsible for triggering many of the do-not-drink notices. Duke Energy cited the study to reassert its claims that some of the toxins found in groundwater near coal ash ponds could be naturally occurring.
Hurricane Matthew recently underlined concerns about the proximity of ash basins to waterways. Early in the storm, the company and DEQ officials said they doubted there would be much threat from two inactive impoundments that had been topped by floodwaters because the sites were covered with vegetation. At present, estimates differ on how much ash was washed downstream.
This year, the spill hasn't been forgotten in the governor's race. Democratic candidate Roy Cooper has challenged McCrory's ability to handle the issue impartially given the governor's longtime ties with Duke. The recent controversy over rescinding the do-not-drink notices has added fuel to Cooper's argument.
The governor has said Cooper bears some responsibility for the spill since he was part of a Democratic leadership in the legislature that ignored the issue. He also said Cooper was involved in the original deal with Duke since Department of Justice attorneys were acting as counsel for DENR at the time. (A WRAL Fact Check of the latter point found that to be a stretch.)
The Dan River spill itself continues to offer lessons about what could go wrong should an ash basin empty into a river and how difficult it is to undo the damage.
Although it was the site of intense clean up and recovery efforts, estimates are that 90 percent of the coal ash from two years ago still sits at the bottom of the river.
Timeline: Water quality remains in question for those living near ash ponds
March 10, 2015: DENR fines Duke a record $25.1 million for contamination from a coal ash impoundment at its Sutton plant near Wilmington. Duke appeals the fine.
April: State begins warning residents not to drink well water near coal ash impoundments.
April 29: Duke says it plans to build lined landfills at Riverbend and Sutton to store about 6 million tons of coal ash.
May 14: Duke pleads guilty in federal court to nine misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act and pays a $102 million fine for illegal pollution discharges at five power plants. The company is required to set aside $3.4 billion for coal ash mitigation at its operations in five states.
June 5: DENR issues Duke permits to transport 3 million tons of coal ash from Sutton and Riverbend via rail to be used as structural fill material former brick mines in Sanford and Moncure.
September 29: Duke and state regulators agree to lower the amount of the fine for violations at Sutton to $7.1 million along with agreement by the company to accelerate groundwater cleanup at plants in Goldsboro, Asheville and Forsyth County. Environmental groups say they plan to challenge the settlement.
December 3: Sutton becomes the first site to receive a pollution discharge permit, allowing the impoundment to be drained and dried out so it can be excavated. The permit allows the ponds to be lowered by 1 foot per week.
December 31: DEQ officials issue a preliminary classification listing a majority of the coal ash impoundments as high or intermediate risk. Twelve ponds could be classified as low-risk, according to the report.
February 9, 2016: More than two years after the Dan River spill, the state fines Duke $6.6 million.
March 4: DEQ sends Duke notification of violations from coal ash leaks at 12 locations.
March 10: State health officials begin mailing out hundreds of letters rescinding do-not-drink notices.
May 4: During testimony in a coal ash lawsuit, state epidemiologist Megan Davies said she and others disagreed with the decision to rescind the do-not-drink letters.
May 18: DEQ announces that it will classify all coal ash basins as either high or intermediate risk, forcing removal of the ash at all sites under state law.
August 10: Davies resigns as state epidemiologist, accusing leaders at DEQ and DHHS of purposefully misleading the public.
August 22: The state issues a dam safety order giving Duke until the end of the year to fix 16 dams at coal ash impoundments.
October 5: Duke and SELC reach an agreement for ash to be removed from the Buck Steam Station near Salisbury. The ash is to be recycled or moved to a lined landfill. SELC, representing the Yadkin Riverkeeper, hails the agreement and says it will end its federal suit and withdraw as a party to a state suit on the matter.
October 12: Flooding from heavy rains during Hurricane Matthew inundates areas around the H.F. Lee power plant in Goldsboro including two inactive coal ash basins.
October 19: Environmentalists dispute an assertion by state officials that only a small amount of coal ash was carried by floodwaters off the Lee site.
October 27: DEQ OKs Duke’s plan to build a lined landfill at its Dan River power plant to move ash farther away from the river.