Duke Energy plans to leave toxic coal ash on banks of Neuse River

Environmental, Regulatory

Posted on December 9th, 2016

Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, Matthew Starr, investigating illegal toxic seeps from Duke Energy coal ash pits on the Neuse River

Before he leaves office, NC Governor Pat McCrory may be leaving one last gift under the tree for his former employer Duke Energy. McCrory’s appointees at the Department of Environmental Quality are currently considering a permit application from the energy company that, if approved, would pave the way for Duke to leave as much as 5.9 million tons of toxic material at its flood-prone H.F. Lee plant for the foreseeable future. The proposed permit would also allow the company to discharge arsenic into the Neuse River at unconscionable levels.

On December 15th, DEQ will close the comment period and hold a public hearing on a wastewater discharge permit at Duke’s H.F. Lee Energy Complex outside of Goldsboro. The permit indicates that Duke Energy plans to construct a coal ash landfill in the existing coal ash basin at the site, on the banks of the Neuse River.

By Duke’s own admission, this plan would be a disaster. In 2015, Duke cited “extensive science and engineering studies” which indicated full excavation of coal ash at the site was the best option for long-term safe storage of the coal ash.

At the time, Duke said, “studies noted the possible risk of flooding at the plant site, which makes excavation the best option for long-term safe storage of the material.” In another statement, Duke noted that “these facilities [referring to H. F. Lee, among others] … are not suitable locations for the material long-term.”

Coal ash spilled from Duke Energy HF Lee Facility discovered on the River by our Upper Neuse Riverkeeper
Coal ash spilled from Duke Energy HF Lee Facility during the flooding after hurricane Matthew. Discovered on the River by our Upper Neuse Riverkeeper

Earlier in 2016, Hurricane Matthew raised questions about the integrity of Duke’s facilities and the reasonableness of storing dangerous materials in a major floodway. The flooding in the wake of Matthew led to a Duke cooling pond dam failure and multiple coal ash spills. The very pond targeted in this latest permit request became an island of coal ash that came within feet of overtopping as it was surrounded by the Neuse River during the flood.

Additionally, the permit would allow Duke to poison the Neuse with arsenic at 150 times the level set by North Carolina’s surface water quality standards for freshwater life.  Arsenic, in small concentrations, is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic species. 

If DEQ allows this permitting process to move forward, the Neuse River and its surrounding communities will be put at risk immediately and for years to come.


Join our Upper Neuse Riverkeeper at the PUBLIC HEARING: 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 at the Wayne County Center, 208 W. Chestnut St., Goldsboro, N.C., 27533 (map). Speaker registration begins at 5 p.m

Public comments on the draft wastewater permit should be mailed to: Division of Water Resources, Wastewater Permitting, Attn: H.F. Lee, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C., 27699-1617. Public comments may also be submitted by email to: Please be sure to include “H.F. Lee” in the email’s subject line.

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