Friday, February 21, 2014

EPA holds meetings regarding coal ash spill

EPA holds meeting regarding coal ash spill

Posted on: 11:09 pm, February 19, 2014, by Lindsey Eaton, updated on: 11:11pm, February 19, 2014

EDEN, N.C. — The EPA held a meeting in Eden for residents concerned about the coal ash spill. It was a packed room with a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers.

Two weeks ago a Duke Energy workers discovered a 48-inch storm pipe was busted. Nearly 40,000 tons of coal ash was leaked into the Dan River. Officials have said that leaked has been plugged.

Recently a second leak was discovered in a different pipe, a 36-inch storm pipe.

“Out of the 36-inch line we are getting containment. Do we have 100 percent containment? Not at this time. No, not until we get that concrete plug in it,” explains Kevin Eichinger, with the EPA.

The EPA says they have started to clean up some of the coal ash but moving forward is a complicated process.

“We have to be able to access it. How do we get to it? It’s not as cut and dry as putting a barge and floating down and shoveling it. We have to find access,” explains Eichinger.

Residents were concerned about water quality, the environment, livestock, crops and the long term impacts.

“It’s a long term solution. You can’t get a quick fix on something like this. We just have to wait and see,” explains Jack Graves, who lives in Eden.

Duke Energy has assured that they will clean up the mess and that customers will not be paying for it.

“You know there’s a lot of promises. ‘We are going to make it right.’ Will they? Will they make it right?” questions Anne Cockrell, who lives in Danville. - ABC13

EPA Gives Updates on Coal Ash Spill at Public Meeting in Eden, N.C.

Posted: Feb 19, 2014 10:23 PM EST

Eden, NC-- As environmental agencies continue to respond to Duke Energy's 82,000 ton coal ash spill into the Dan River, they're also keeping the public informed along the way.
The EPA held their second public forum today addressing the spill in Eden, North Carolina.

Several government agencies were there, and so was Duke Energy.

The EPA gave a timeline of emergency response efforts since the spill on February 3. They said there's ongoing water sampling, and work has begun to fill the second failed pipe. Environmental agencies are evaluating the river quality, and assessing potential long-term health and environmental effects.

Several people wanted a date for when the coal ash is going to be removed from the river.

The EPA said they're in the process of planning how they'll remove it.

"Hopefully all power companies will start removing these coal ash ponds and putting them in lined containment areas, so all our water will be protected. That's thing life that's supposed to be provided is clean air and clean water," said Deborah Dix, a Danville resident.

EPA Gives Updates
Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 9:45 pm


EDEN, N.C. — “Customers will not pay for the cleanup of the Dan River,” Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks told a packed room at Eden City Hall Wednesday. Residents had a lot of questions, wanting to be reassured that the drinking water is safe, that the river will be cleaned up and that the coal ash basin from Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station here — responsible for the coal ash spill into the Dan River two weeks ago — would be fixed and shut down for good.

Kevin Eichinger, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator in charge of the emergency response, explained that Eden residents’ water is taken further upstream from the spill and is therefore not affected. He also reassured Danville residents in attendance that the treated water they get from their taps continues to test safe consistently when checked by local, state and federal officials.

Several residents wanted to know why river cleanup had not begun.

Eichinger said cleanup has begun at the site, with vacuuming started at a large deposit left at the location of the spill. He pointed out that last week’s snowstorm delayed getting the ash vacuumed up, saying it was to dangerous to work while it was snowing and immediately afterward; he also said the water has been too high since the snow began to melt for the work to be done, but preparations were underway for it to begin again.

When asked why the rest of the river wasn’t being dredged yet, Eichinger said planning has to be done for that to happen. Ash deposits have to be located; whether underlying contaminants that have been in places along the river for many years need to be assessed about the danger of stirring them up; planning for the best ways to remove the coal ash from different types of locations has to be done; and other factors have to be determined first.

Then, Eichinger said, equipment and crews have to be moved into place.

Before work could begin on plugging the collapsed pipe at the site of the old power plant, infrastructure had to be created that could hold heavy equipment in areas close enough to reach the pipe. Tons of rock was trucked in to create beds for large cranes to be set up safely and to build gravel roads.

Eichinger told the crowd that the most important thing in the early weeks has been to stop the leaks — from both the main storm water pipe that broke and a second one found days ago to be leaking contaminated water into the river.

Planning teams have been formed with all of the responding state and federal agencies to work out the best way to get the coal ash out of the river, but that is still in early stages because while testing has been done from Eden to Kerr Reservoir, further tests are still needed to pinpoint where the ash deposits are.

Concerns were raised about how flooding might affect animals and crops on farms, and on wildlife and fish.

Sara Ward, with U.S. Fish & Wildlife, said it is simply too early to tell.

There was definite frustration with the lack of concrete answers and a solid timeline for cleaning the river and moving the coal ash ponds away from the river.

Eichinger said he understood the frustration, but “I’m trying to be honest; we may not know the answer yet.”

For instance, Eichinger said, they just don’t know when the coal ash ponds will be moved out because a place for them to go has to be found and a safer, lined storage basin built for it.

Stephanie Wenning, also an on-scene coordinator for the EPA, said as more reports come in and data becomes available, they will be posted online at the agency’s website,
Denice Thibodeau reports for the Danville Register & Bee.

South Boston News

EPA to South Boston: Our emergency response continues

A crowd of some 200 people pressed members of the U.S. Environmental Agency to explain what comes next for the Dan River in the wake of the Feb. 2 coal ash spill that has fouled a 70-mile stretch of water from Eden, N.C. to Kerr Lake.

EPA representatives, joined by a phalanx of officials from the Virginia health department, Virginia and North Carolina environmental quality agencies, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sought to reassure the public about the disaster at a town hall-style meeting Thursday night in South Boston.

Yet the focus of presenters — on the emergency response by EPA and other agencies in the weeks after the spill, and the uncertain impact on the Dan in the months and years to come — wasn’t entirely in sync with a question that audience members raised repeatedly:

What do EPA and others plan to do to ensure that similar disasters don’t happen in the future?

The answer, said Kevin Eichinger, EPA’s on-scene coordinator for the disaster response on the Dan, will depend on how the federal government decides to regulate coal ash wastes in the future.

 “Why is it taking EPA so long to label toxic coal ash as a toxic material?” asked Eichinger rhetorically of the audience.

“I ask that question myself. I don’t know why.”

Amid official assurances that drinking water is safe and public health has not been compromised, Eichinger acknowledged that communities along the river such as South Boston have good reason to be concerned about the impacts of the spill.

The EPA’s role at the moment, he said, is managing the emergency response to the release of an estimated 39,000 tons of fly ash into the Dan at the Dan River Steam Station, a retired coal-fired plant owned by Duke Energy in Eden, N.C.

(Duke Energy, which has furnished the estimates of the spill’s size, initially said up to 82,000 tons of coal ash flowed into the Dan from an ash pond breach by the river. Eichinger said it’s possible that the spill’s size remains closer to the upper end of Duke’s estimates.)

The EPA currently is concerned about one issue in particular — the continued seepage of wastes through one of the two stormwater drainage pipes that run underneath the retired coal plant’s 27-acre watery ash pit. It was the collapse of the larger of the two lines, a 48-inch concrete-and-corrugated metal pipe more than half a century old, that caused the crisis in the first place — cleaving the surface of the pit and allowing spent fly ash and slurry water to escape through the pipe into the river.

Under orders by EPA and North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Duke has been working this week to form a concrete plug in the leaky 36-inch line, which Eichinger said “was on our radar” after the first pipe failure.

“It turns out it was [a problem] and we’ve addressed that,” said Eichinger.

Eichinger said at the start of Thursday night’s meeting that he planned to depart afterwards for Eden in time to check on the utility’s progress stabilizing the line — likely a vain hope, as the scheduled hour-and-a-half session lasted to around 10 p.m., two hours later than planned.

Eichinger and other officials ran through a wide assortment of concerns voiced by the often-skeptical crowd. Agency officials took pains to assure residents that drinking water supplies are safe and raw river water and riverbed sediments are being constantly tested. Sampling in the aftermath of the spill has mostly turned up results that fall within federal safe water guidelines.

Also discussed at length at the meeting: steps that agencies and Duke Emergy will take to remove coal ash from the river. Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a statement noting thick deposits of coal ash in the river from Eden to Danville, with lesser concentrations downstream in South Boston and traces of ash in Kerr Lake.

Cleanup could include the use of vacuum trucks, “it may be a small-scale dredger of some sort, it may be shovels,” said Eichinger of the options that EPA will consider. “We have multiple technologies to use in play.

“Our goal is to get contaminants out of the river as quickly as we can” — without, he added, stirring up existing contaminants in the Dan such as industrial PCBs.

Then “we’ve created a worse problem,” he said.

Agency representatives stressed that it will take time to get a fuller sense of the damage to the Dan, and until such time, they will remain on the ground, working with river communities to develop a response.

“It’s going to take us time,” said Craig Giggleman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I can’t stand here and say, ‘Oh, it’s the end of the world’ or ‘It’s all okay.’ We’ve got to assess it.

“You’re going to see us here for a long time,” he said.

Joining agency officials at the public meeting was a representative from another partner in the response effort — Duke Energy itself. Jeff Brooks, a spokesman for the company, found himself on the receiving end of some of the night’s most pointed questions and accusations.

The civil but restive audience made plain its unhappiness with Duke, with one speaker accusing the utility of “reckless endangerment” of South Boston and other communities along the Dan.

“We’re not a bunch of country rednecks who don’t know what’s going on,” said Nick DeCarmen, a South Boston native who recently moved back to town and lives nearby the water treatment plant on the river.

“I think I’d investigate. I wouldn’t want for this disaster to endanger the public. I think that’s what everybody is so upset about.”

Brooks said Duke is committed to setting matters straight after the spill — including by shouldering the costs of the cleanup and closing the waste ash pond at the Dan River Steam Station where the disaster occurred.

“Our goal is to be supportive of the community as we work through this process,” said Brooks. “What that support will entail, I can’t say right now.”

Brooks noted that Duke, the nation’s largest utility, is currently debating the best way to close the Dan River waste ash pit, which continues to hold more than 1 million tons of material, far surpassing the amount that escaped with this month’s spill. Duke is considering two approaches — sealing the pit with a waterproof liner and burying it underneath a layer of earth, or trucking out the wastes and placing them in a federally regulated, lined landfill well away from sources of water.

Audience members left no doubt that they want to see the coal ashes — which contain such heavy metals as arsenic, selenium, and mercury — gone from the site.

“I don’t know what idiot thought to put a pond of poison next to the river,” said Alan Wolfe of Clarksville, who called the continued presence of the ash pit “a time bomb just waiting to go off.”

Eichinger said that amid the flurry of activity to respond to the disaster, he and other staff were passing along such concerns from the public to higher-ups within the EPA. He expressed open sympathy with audience members’ desire to to see the ashes removed, but said the decision was outside the scope of his job as a first responder.

“I’m not the policymaker, I’m the emergency response coordinator. If I were sitting in your seat, I’d ask the same questions,” he said.

The presentation of data and assurances of water safety did little to settle the fears of numerous speakers, including one woman who wanted to know if her well water was at risk of contamination. Duke’s Brooks said the utility would pay for testing of wells at homes and farms nearby the river, but the speaker’s location — 10 miles away — puts her firmly outside the guidelines of what Duke has said it will pay for.

“We shouldn’t have to pay for it, because Lord knows we don’t have it,” said one speaker softly.

The issue of who pays cropped up repeatedly throughout the meeting, notably in response to Brooks’ assertion that Duke shareholders and its insurance carriers — not utility ratepayers — will bear the expense of the cleanup. That prompted one listener to pull up a news report on her cell phone in which a George Everett, Duke's director of environment and legislative affairs, was quoted telling North Carolina lawmakers, “When costs do come into play, when we’ve had a chance to determine what those costs are, it’s usually our customers who pay our costs of operation.”

Brooks, seeking to resolve the apparent contradiction, said Everett was referring to the long-term task of removing coal ash pits from Duke sites. Brooks said he was referring to Duke’s commitment to pay for the immediate costs of the emergency.

“That will come from our insurance and our shareholders. Our ratepayers will not pay for this response,” he said.

In the wake of the spill, Duke has said it will close ash pits at decommissioned plants next to waterways — a move that environmental groups accuse Duke of having resisted for too long, with the tacit support of North Carolina regulators who failed to press the utility for swifter action by, they say.

Brooks added, however, that Duke Energy has made no commitments to remove ash pits at two operational power plants that sit just over the Halifax County line into North Carolina — the Mayo Plant, just off U.S. 501 headed to Roxboro, and the Roxboro Steam Station, one of the nation’s largest coal-burning plants in western Person County.

Eichinger said that as resources agencies shift their footing to deal with the lasting impacts of the spill, EPA will follow through on another part of its responsibility to the public — enforcing federal regulations and making sure Duke bears responsibility for cleaning up its mess.

“We will recover everything we spend from Duke and they will compensate us,” he said.

This story will be updated.

DENR head defends agency over pollution enforcement as federal probe widens ablythe@newsobserver.comFebruary 19, 2014 

Read more here:

RALEIGH — While criticism from environmental advocates and a widening federal criminal investigation swirled around him, N.C. Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla on Wednesday defended how his agency has handled the threat of pollution from coal ash at Duke Energy power plants around the state. Even as Skvarla spoke at the department’s headquarters in Raleigh, his staff was busy complying with a new round of subpoenas they received Tuesday and disclosed Wednesday demanding 18 current and former employees appear before a federal grand jury in Raleigh next month.

Those subpoenaed are required to bring any records they have of payments or items of value they might have made or received from Duke Energy or its predecessor company, Progress Energy or Carolina Power & Light.

The subpoenas also order the department to produce the personnel files of those employees, most of whom have jobs related to the regulation and oversight of water quality.

The personnel file of Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources, has also been subpoenaed, along with that of Amy Adams, a former DENR employee who is the state campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices, a conservation group based in Boone. Neither Reeder nor Adams have been subpoenaed.

Skvarla has not been subpoenaed, according to the department. Adams, who worked at DENR from 2004 to 2013, most recently as regional supervisor for the Washington, N.C. office, issued a statement.

“I’m glad the U.S. Attorney’s office is casting a wide net in this investigation to ensure the citizens of North Carolina and Virginia learn the truth about this coal ash disaster,” Adams said in a statement. “I’m glad to help in whatever way I can to bring out the truth, and I look forward to speaking with the federal investigators.”

Additional subpoenas demand records pertaining to seepage reports at the 14 sites where coal ash is stored in 32 ponds from active and inactive Duke Energy plants. Last week, records of correspondence between Duke Energy and DENR were subpoenaed.

A DENR spokesman said the agency would cooperate with the federal investigation. Skvarla declined to comment on the subpoenas or any part of the investigation at his briefing for the news media on the regulation of coal-ash reserves.

The briefing followed criticism from environmental groups and scrutiny by the news media about how well the state has regulated Duke Energy. Up to 39,000 tons of ash has poured into the Dan River along the North Carolina-Virginia border since the spill on Feb. 2. The spill poses no immediate health threat but is endangering aquatic life.

With three division directors at his side, Skvarla disputed a claim by environmental groups that the agency only sued the power company last year so it could engineer a quick settlement that amounted to no more than a monetary slap on the wrist.

‘It’s not that simple’

Skvarla alternately portrayed environmental advocates as partners sharing a goal of cleaning up pollution and protecting the environment, and as intractable opponents. He said his agency and the environmentalists didn’t agree on much.

“It had become very clear … their desired outcome was what I call one size fits all,” Skvarla said. “The only acceptable remedy was dig them (the coal-ash ponds) up, move them to lined landfills and cover them. … I can assure you it’s not that simple.”

He said there is a scientific dispute about what to do with the sites. Skvarla and other officials said they can’t just go in and close down a potential polluter without following a legal process, unless there is an immediate threat.

DENR and Duke Energy’s settlement of the four lawsuits the agency filed over the coal-ash ponds included a $99,111 fine, with the threat of a fine of $1,000 a day for the first month and $5,000 a day after that if the company failed to take agreed-upon steps at two plants subject to the proposed settlement. That settlement is on hold while a statewide review of the problem is undertaken.

Skvarla said the settlement was aimed at getting the facilities cleaned up quickly rather than drag out in court, and that the state is not permitted to take into account the company’s wealth. He said it would be the first time North Carolina has fined Duke Energy over coal ash.

Skvarla said environmental groups that eventually intervened in the case were included in discussions with the attorney general’s office and Duke Energy attorneys as the case progressed.

“Any accusation, any allegation that DENR and Duke got together and made some smoky, backroom deal with a nominal fine is just not true,” Skvarla said.

Lawsuits filed

DENR last year filed the lawsuits after the Southern Environmental Law Center gave notice it was going to sue under the federal Clean Water Act. The lawsuits say 14 separate Duke Energy facilities in North Carolina are releasing arsenic and other toxic chemicals into groundwater, as well as seeping contaminated water above ground into waterways.

The pending settlement only affected two plants, because those were in the first lawsuits filed, and it called for further assessments but did not require the pollution be stopped immediately. Environmentalists contend there is an immediate threat from the coal-ash ponds, and point to DENR’s own lawsuits, which say the coal ash poses “a serious danger” to public health and to the environment.

Sides disagree

DENR and the environmentalists disagree over the agency’s intentions. The advocates contend DENR wouldn’t have sued if they hadn’t forced the agency’s hand. Skvarla said the agency would have sued anyway. He said he didn’t find out about the coal-ash issue until shortly after taking office in January 2013.

“There was no scintilla of a doubt what we were going to do,” he said. “We never hesitated. We did what we were supposed to do. If they had simply come to me and said we intend to do this, we would have taken charge. It didn’t require a letter of intent to sue.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center disputed much of what Skvarla had to say, and it cited several instances of conservationists having alerted state regulators to the dangers of coal ash since 2011.

Last October, DENR ordered Duke Energy to supply residents of Arden, near Asheville, with alternative drinking water after tests showed a home’s private well was contaminated. The home is near the company’s coal-ash storage facility, where a number of private wells had also shown contamination. In November, the company agreed to pay up to $1.8 million for a new water line to serve a community near Wilmington because of coal ash pollution.

“It is way, way past time that DENR and Duke Energy get past responding to this criminal grand jury investigation and start cleaning up Duke Energy’s illegal and dangerous coal-ash pollution throughout North Carolina, so that we do not have another Dan River disaster,” SELC attorney Frank Holleman said.

Cassie Gavin, director of governmental relations for the state chapter of the Sierra Club, issued a statement after Skvarla’s briefing.

“Noticeably lacking in today’s press conference was any stated commitment by the administration to remove coal ash from unlined lagoons next to our waterways,” she said. “The coal ash spill on the Dan River was completely foreseeable and preventable. … The public pays the price for the government’s failure to act.”

Duke Energy says leak at second pipe halted

Staff writer John Murawski contributed.

Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 9:11 pm

EDEN, N.C. — Duke Energy’s problems at Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. — where millions of gallons of water from a coal ash basin and up to 39,000 tons of coal ash were released into the Dan River Feb. 2 — continue with weather delays from a winter storm slowing sealing of a 48-inch corrugated metal storm water drainage pipe and a second storm water pipe springing leaks. Duke Energy has now been ordered to seal off the second storm water pipe — a 36-inch concrete pipe — that the utility sent a robot through last week to check for leaks. Duke Energy initially said the second pipe did not need immediate action, but when a state inspector reviewed the tape, multiple leaks were found. The inspector called some of the leaks “gushers,” and the state Division of Water Resources ordered Duke Energy to fix the pipe immediately.

On Tuesday, officials said unsafe levels of arsenic were being spilled into the Dan River from the second pipe.

At the plant on Wednesday, Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks pointed out pumps and tanker trucks being used to capture the water coming from the second pipe.

“Nothing is going into the river,” Brooks said, adding that Duke Energy plans to follow the same plan they are using with the first pipe: fill the pipe with a concrete/grout mix and cap the end at the river.
“[NC]DENR ordered us to stop the outflow and that’s what we’re doing,” Brooks said.

Brooks said work has resumed at the first pipe now that most of the snow from last week’s storm has melted, but vacuuming up the sediment in the river, where a huge coal ash deposit lies near the first failed pipe’s outtake, has been delayed by high water caused by the snow melt.

“Now that the snow has melted, crews are anxious to get back to work,” Brooks said.
Now that weather is improving, however, that is expected to resume, Brooks said.

No one is sure how old the failed pipes are. Brooks said the plant itself opened in 1949, with the first part of the coal ash basin created in the mid-1950s. The basin was expanded in the late 1960s, taking it over the first pipe, and another expansion covered the second pipe.

Brooks said the property has an enormous and complex storm water drainage system, and storm water that used to use the two affected pipes will be rerouted through that system.

Asked about several subpoena’s issued by federal prosecutors in recent days asking for documents relating to Duke Energy’s relationship with NCDENR, Brooks acknowledged receipt of the subpoena’s but said Duke Energy is not prepared to discuss pending testimony before a grand jury.