Conservation groups yesterday filed lawsuits in federal court against Duke Energy seeking to clean up toxic coal ash pollution from three Duke facilities that are contaminating rivers and groundwater supplies that provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.
The Clean Water Act lawsuits were filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Yadkin Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance. The suits address coal ash pollution and dam safety issues at Duke Energy’s Cape Fear site in Chatham County on the Cape Fear River, its Lee site in Goldsboro on the Neuse River, and its Buck site in Salisbury on the Yadkin River.
DENR failed to include many of Duke Energy’s Clean Water Act violations at these sites in its state court enforcement actions filed by DENR in response to an earlier notice filed by SELC and conservation groups. DENR has not required a cleanup at these coal ash sites, and Duke Energy has not committed to clean them up.
The Cape Fear plant has high hazard dams that are all rated in poor condition and seep directly into the Cape Fear River, just three miles above the drinking water intake for Sanford and also upstream from the Harnett County, Dunn, Fayetteville, Wilmington, and Brunswick County water system intakes. The dams on the river have been defective for years, but Duke Energy has not repaired them. Earlier this year, Waterkeeper Alliance discovered that one of the Cape Fear dams had cracked and that Duke Energy had pumped over 60 million gallons of polluted coal ash water into the Cape Fear River, far more than the amount spilled in February into the Dan River.
The Lee pits are directly on the banks of the Neuse River just a few miles upstream from the drinking water intake for Goldsboro. They are polluting groundwater with high levels of arsenic and discharge illegally into the River and surrounding wetlands. The Lee dams are rated high hazard and failed to meet the minimum standard for stability.
The Buck coal ash lagoons are near Salisbury on the Yadkin River, directly upstream from High Rock Lake and drinking water intakes for Denton and Albermarle. The Buck dams have been rated high hazard and have been found to have “serious” problems, including broken, cracked, and leaking structures. The Buck lagoons, which contain pollutants such as cancer-causing hexavalent chromium, have contaminated nearby groundwater and discharge illegally into the Yadkin River and High Rock Lake. Homes are located near the pits, and local residents have expressed great concern about the impact of the coal ash pits.
A recent bill by the North Carolina General Assembly would require removal of coal ash at four sites but does not require action at the three sites in today’s federal Clean Water Act lawsuits.
The lawsuits regarding the Cape Fear and Buck facilities were filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, and the lawsuit regarding the Lee facility was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
SELC has also intervened in pending state court enforcement actions on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Yadkin Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance, along with other conservation groups around the state.
Press Release, September 4, 2014