Friday, March 14, 2014

Duke: Cleanup at Dan River plant will take 2 years / Coal ash spill briefing slated Tuesday

Disagreement between Duke Energy, N.C. regulators widens in coal-ash spill

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Published: Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014 - 1:00 am

RALEIGH, N.C.-An advocacy group on Thursday stepped up its efforts to portray the state's environmental regulators as too close to Duke Energy. At the same time, a public rift between the agency and the utility widened.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources rejected Duke's long-term plan for cleaning up its 33 ash ponds at 14 plants. The agency had given the company until Saturday to present a plan to remove and store coal ash in the wake of the Feb. 2 massive spill of the material into the Dan River.

Instead, Duke submitted a four-page letter lacking in details - only one page addressed its "comprehensive coal-ash plan" - which drew a blunt rebuke from DENR Secretary John Skvarla, who called the report "inadequate."

Also on Thursday, Duke asked a Wake County Superior Court judge to delay for 30 days an order that could force the company to immediately clean up all of its ponds. Duke is considering whether to appeal.

DENR and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke Energy for 29 years, have staked out increasingly strident stances against the utility in the wake of the spill. But environmentalists continue to argue that the agency is too cozy with the utility. A federal criminal investigation is looking into that relationship.

A fight between DENR and the Southern Environmental Law Center has been going on since last year, when the organization gave notice it intended to sue the company over its coal-ash ponds. That prompted the agency to file its own lawsuits in order to control the outcome of the litigation.

On Thursday, the law group released selected e-mails that it contends show DENR and Duke conspired to resolve the lawsuits to the utility's advantage.

The e-mails, written in 2013, were exchanged by a deputy attorney general, DENR officials, a Duke Energy attorney and the company's lobbyists.

A spokesman for DENR disputed the organization's interpretation of the messages, saying the law group showed "a reckless disregard for facts."

"Some, it's fair to say, are mischaracterized, to put it mildly," DENR Communications Director Drew Elliot said. "Some are ridiculous when put into context."
Still, the e-mails suggest that Duke was getting what it wanted.

In May 2013, a Duke attorney e-mailed a proposal that small seepages of wastewater at coal ash plants that were not covered by state-issued permits be given retroactive amnesty, rather than being subject to enforcement action. That suggestion ended up in the final proposed settlement.

Another e-mail shows Duke's lobbyist and DENR's general counsel, Lacy Presnell, had a meeting arranged in February 2013 soon after the SELC filed its first 60-day notice of intent to sue. By the end of March, Duke's attorney indicated the company wanted to work out a settlement.

In one e-mail, Duke and the state's attorneys discuss how to limit the participation of the Southern Environmental Law Center. The organization had threatened to sue Duke Energy over the 14 coal ash plants the utility owns in North Carolina. But DENR pre-empted the organization by filing its own legal actions, giving it control of the case.

"These e-mails show what we suspected, which is very soon after our threat of litigation, Duke and DENR were talking about how they could work together to resolve this without the participation of the citizens who started the litigation," SELC attorney D.J. Gerken said Thursday.

Gerken said the e-mails set a tone for what followed: a proposed settlement that didn't require the company to clean up its ponds and only imposed a minor fine.

"This was never an enforcement case for DENR," Gerken said. "This was a procedural gambit."
The e-mails surfaced the day after Duke submitted a general overview of its coal ash storage strategy. On Thursday, DENR rejected the power company's letter and directed Duke to try again.

DENR had given Duke until Saturday to provide detailed plans, including cost estimates, for upgrading the safety of its coal ash pits. In more than half those pits, the ash is soaking in lagoons that are seeping heavy metals and other contaminants into groundwater below.

"There are far too many questions unanswered," Skvarla said in a statement. "Duke Energy should provide the information we originally requested."

Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the company doesn't plan to submit additional information by Saturday's deadline. Instead, Duke officials want to meet with DENR officials to discuss the matter, according to the letter written by Duke CEO Lynn Good.

"Cost estimates ... are very dependent upon the actual disposal methods," Good wrote, "and we will work with the state to make estimates available as we narrow the range of options at each particular site."

Duke's letter contains general information, such as Duke's history of providing low-cost electricity and a recap of recent events in the Dan River spill.

The company's "comprehensive ash basin plan" takes up all of one single-spaced page.

In that summary, Duke said it plans to remove ash from three sites - Dan River, Riverbend and Asheville - and place the waste into modern, lined landfills where it will be stored in dry form. Riverbend will take the longest to complete, up to 4-1/2 years.

The company has not decided what to do with its other 11 sites, whether the ash will be dug out and moved to lined landfills or whether it will be dried, capped and stored in existing ash pits.

Duke also said it would use a "risk-informed" analysis, which means that the 14 ash storage sites will be scored on their potential environmental risk, and those with lower scores will be subject to less costly measures.

Democrats on Thursday previewed a coal-ash bill they will introduce in the short session that begins in May.

The proposal echoes some of the public sentiment that has surfaced since the Feb. 2 spill into the Dan River in Rockingham County, such as closing all coal ash ponds and making the utility - not ratepayers - pick up the cost.

Sen. Mike Woodard, a Democrat who represents an area in Caswell County where the Dan River crosses, expressed optimism that the bill in some form could pick up bipartisan support.
The bill would:

-Require Duke Energy to close and move all of its 33 coal-ash ponds at 14 plants into safe, lined and dry storage away from water sources. It would specify that Duke's proposal to only cap the ponds is insufficient.
-Direct Duke Energy to provide a cleanup plan for the Dan River spill, which the state has already ordered it to do.
-Direct Duke to pay for the cost of cleanup at all of its plants, and not pass that cost along to ratepayers.
-Prohibit putting any additional ash into the coal-ash ponds.
-Establish standards for closing the ponds, including monitoring them.
-Establish standards for new utility-owned lined landfills.
-Repeal a provision in last year's regulatory overhaul bill (H.B. 74) that allowed companies to have contaminated groundwater up to their property line, however large that might be. The new bill would set the testing boundary at 500 feet. It also limits DENR's authority to contain contamination at waste disposal facilities.
-Restore funding to DENR at a level allowing adequate monitoring of coal-ash sites.
-Direct the Environmental Review Commission to study the safety of using coal ash to fill dirt in construction sites, road beds, agricultural fields and other manufactured products.


Read more here:

Duke: Cleanup at Dan River plant will take 2 years

The Associated Press | Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 7:19 pm
RALEIGH, N.C. - Duke Energy says it plans to move three leaky coal ash pits away from North Carolina waterways, including one that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge.
Duke says it will take at least two years to clean up the Dan River site, and sites near Asheville and Charlotte. State regulators say Duke's plans fall short of cleaning up nearly three dozen leaky coal ash dumps spread across the state.
After the Feb. 2 spill, Gov. Pat McCrory and regulators gave Duke a March 15 deadline to provide details of how the company would stop pollution at the ash pits.
Duke President Lynn Good sent Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla a letter with details.
But on Thursday, Skvarla called the plans inadequate.

Duke Energy vague on future of NC coal ash ponds

Posted 5:00 p.m. yesterday
Updated 7:29 p.m. yesterday

— State regulators say Duke Energy hasn't provided enough information regarding the utility's plans for handling toxic waste at its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

After a Feb. 2 ash spill in the Dan River, Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources gave Duke a March 15 deadline to provide detailed plans for how the company plans to protect the environment around its 32 ash ponds at 14 sites statewide.

Duke President and Chief Executive Lynn Good sent McCrory and DENR Secretary John Skvarla a four-page letter Wednesday outlining short- and long-term plans for the ash ponds, but Skvarla responded Thursday that he finds the letter lacking.

"Duke Energy’s response is inadequate," Skvarla said in a statement. "There are far too many questions left unanswered, and Duke Energy should provide the information we originally requested, including the estimated costs of cleanup, plans for the future and a detailed timeline."

DENR plans to enforce "mechanisms to not only derive the necessary information but to also enforce stringent timelines for fulfillment and completion of Duke Energy’s obligations to protect public health and the environment," he said.

Environmental groups applauded Good for Duke's efforts to clean up the Dan River spill, but they also said the company needs to take more decisive steps on its other ash ponds.

"While the letter offers hints of real promise," D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement, "Duke offers cold comfort to the many other North Carolina communities living with the contamination and hazards of Duke’s unlined coal ash pits."

Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club called Duke's plans "a good first step," but said it "does not fully rise to the challenge presented."

"Without more information, North Carolinians cannot be sure that their right to clean, safe drinking water will be protected. Without a clear commitment, hard-working families cannot be sure that one of the nation’s most prosperous companies won’t pass the buck," Martin said in a statement.

Good said Duke plans to move the ash from the spill site near Eden to a lined landfill or "structural fill solution" as soon as it can get the necessary permits, completing the move in 24 to 30 months. Ash from ponds in Gaston County and Asheville also would be moved to lined pits, and the company is considering such a solution for ash ponds in Wilmington, she said.

"This strategy will include a review of active ponds, inactive ponds and closure strategies for the remaining retired plants, will be informed by outside experts, and will include a risk-informed, tiered approach," she wrote. "The work will include a review of the effectiveness of ash storage
management programs and practices to confirm that longer-term solutions are sustainable and lessons learned are captured for company-wide application. This comprehensive strategy will evaluate options up to and including complete conversion to all dry handling."

More on this

Press Release March 13, 2014
More Info:Coal Waste

SELC Comments on Duke Energy's Response to Governor: All North Carolina Communities Need Protection from Toxic Coal Ash

D.J. Gerken, Managing Attorney, Asheville Office, 828-258-2023
Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation, 919-967-1450
Kathleen Sullivan, Senior Communications Manager, 919-967-1450 (email)

Chapel Hill, NC –  Last month, in response to overwhelming public pressure to finally require action from Duke Energy for its hazardous coal ash pits, Governor McCrory demanded that Duke Energy provide detailed plans for action at each of its 14 power plants.  Today, Duke CEO Lynn Good responded to the Governor with a terse four page letter while at the same time Duke’s lawyers asked a state court judge to delay his ruling requiring Duke to take immediate action to eliminate sources of contamination for 30 days from his signing of the order.
“We need binding commitments from Duke not just words. It is good that Duke says it will remove the ash from Riverbend and Dan River, but all 14 communities in North Carolina threatened by its coal ash need binding commitments that Duke Energy will obey the law and clean up its coal ash,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents citizens groups intervening in state enforcement actions. “At the same time the public has to question Duke’s commitment to do the right thing when today it sought to delay enforcement of a court ruling  that requires immediate clean up.”
“Astonishingly, after a catastrophic coal ash spill and a demand for information from the Governor of North Carolina – Duke is still  trying to buy more time,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents citizens groups in the state court action that led to the recent ruling.   “While the letter offers hints of real promise – including a commitment to convert to dry ash handling or close coal fired units at Duke’s Asheville plant – Duke offers cold comfort to the many other North Carolina communities living with the contamination and hazards of Duke’s unlined coal ash pits.  It’s time for Duke to enter into a binding agreement with definite timetables, enforceable by court order, to remove the toxic coal ash at all its coal ash pits away from waterways into dry lined storage.”
About the Southern Environmental Law Center: The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

Coal ash spill briefing slated Tuesday

GoDanRiver staff | Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 7:34 pm
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will hold a community briefing and update on the coal ash spill Tuesday in Danville.
Officials from the VDEQ, the Department of Health and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will give a public update on how those agencies are responding to the spill that occurred at Duke Energy’s old Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.
The briefing will take place from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council Chambers on the fourth floor of the Danville Municipal Building at 427 Patton St.