Questions Remain on Duke Energy Coal Ash Pits

By Matthew Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper

In 2016, Sound Rivers secured an important legal victory to ensure that the coal ash currently stored in unlined pits along the Neuse River in Goldsboro would be removed by Duke Energy. As part of that removal process, Duke Energy is required to obtain a wastewater discharge permit from our state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). A draft permit was released by the previous DEQ administration in late 2016.

Last month I spoke at the public hearing against the Duke Energy HF Lee draft wastewater permit. The permit is not protective of the Neuse River water quality and does not protect those who fish or use the river as a source of recreation. We will have to wait until regulators take action to have a better idea of what our next steps will be. My hope is that a new and greatly improved draft permit is issued followed by another public comment period. Below are some points that I made during the hearing.

1. Not only would this permit pave the way for a coal ash landfill, but the draft permit would also allow Duke Energy to pollute the Neuse River with arsenic at over 2,000 times the surface water standard for water supplies and protection of human health, and unlimited amounts of other coal ash pollutants like lead, chromium, and mercury, when it pumps out the ash basins prior to removing the ash.

2. The permit says Duke will install a treatment system for its discharges. DEQ needs to hold Duke Energy accountable by including enforceable limits on its discharges, not just rely on vague promises that the water will be treated.

3. Lastly, since this permit appears to be so far outside the scope of what is more likely to be reality, DEQ must amend the permit to remove references to the on-site landfill and add required limits for toxic pollutants when the lagoons are pumped out, and then re-issue a draft permit with a new public notice and comment period. With the current draft permit the public can not accurately evaluate the impacts to the Neuse River and the public that uses the river until we know exactly what they are proposing for effluent limits, monitoring, and the fate of the coal ash.