- The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Roanoke River Basin Association announced last week they will sue Duke Energy for violations of the Clean Water Act stemming from coal ash contamination at the company's Mayo Steam Plant in Roxboro, North Carolina.
- There are 6.5 million tons of coal ash at the site being stored in an unlined pit on the banks of the Mayo Lake, which also feeds into the Roanoke River. The SELC argues Duke is violating its permits by allowing direct discharge of wastewater into the river.
- The suit is one of five filed by SELC against Duke for coal ash pollution in North Carolina and follows a hearing on the effects of coal ash on low-income and minority communities held by the NC Advisory Committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Duke Energy pleaded guilty 18 times to violations of the Clearn Water Act stemming from its coal ash ponds last year, and the new SELC suit comes as the company is still under criminal probation.
In their notice to Duke Energy, the DEQ, and the EPA, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Roanoke River Basin Association charge that Duke is violating its permit under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).
The site under scrutiny is the Mayo Steam Plant in Roxboro, where Duke Energy stores 6.5 million tons of coal ash in an unlined pit on Mayo Lake, a popular recreational area.
According to the notice, the power plant created a 144-acre reservoir for coal ash waste disposal on the banks of the lake by building a dam along a part of Crutchfield Branch, a stream in the area. Duke Energy is authorized to use the reservoir as a waste water treatment facility under the NPDES, and is only legally allowed to discharge treated waste water through a canal into Mayo Lake.
In the suit, Duke Energy is charged with indirectly discharging untreated waste water from the coal ash pond into Crutchfield branch — a violation of the Removed Substances provision under the NPDES Permit that precludes the company from polluting North Carolina waters and other navigable rivers and lakes.
The notice also alleges that Duke Energy violated the Clean Water Act for unlawfully burying Crutchfield Branch with sludge and coal ash after ceasing to use the Mayo Lake waste water treatment facility.
Duke Energy criticized the lawsuit in a statement provided to Utility Dive.
"Ash basins are being closed in ways that protect people and the environment, making this yet another unnecessary and wasteful legal fight by SELC," a Duke spokesperson wrote. "This is a deliberate effort to sidestep North Carolina’s Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA), which is the strongest in the nation and lays out a framework, schedule, public input process and regulation to ensure basins are closed safely. Any closure plan must protect the environment."
Duke Energy operates 14 different coal ash sites in North Carolina The Mayo Steam plant suit is one of five other the SELC has filed against against Duke Energy.
After the grand jury investigation following the Dan River spill in 2014, Duke Energy committed to excavating sites at Riverbend, Asheville, and Sutton — all topics in the SELC's Clean Water Act enforcement notices. Duke also agreed to excavate Dan River, and that commitment was later inserted into the NC Coal Ash Management Act. The company later agreed to excavate ash from Cape Fear, Lee, and Weatherspoon, also topics of Clean Water Act enforcement notices, according to SELC representative Frank Holleman.
The other seven sites — including Marshall, Allen, Belew’s Creek, Cliffside, Buck, Roxboro, and Mayo,— are the subject of state court actions, the enforcement mechanism guaranteed under a 2014 EPA coal ash regulation.