Duke Told to Clean-Up Coal Ash Pollution by North Carolina

  • State proposes all coal pits must be removed by 2024
  • Order comes after Duke coal ash spill into Dan River in 2014

Duke Energy Corp. must clean up its coal-ash ponds in North Carolina within eight years because of environmental and public-health risks, state regulators said in a proposal that could be scaled back at a later date.

Duke must dig up and close coal-ash pits at eight sites by 2019 and at 25 locations by 2024 under a proposal issued Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. The agency also asked for changes to the state’s coal ash law that will allow for a reconsideration of the risks in 18 months after Duke has time to make repairs to its facilities, according to a statement.

Duke fell 3.7 percent to $76.57 in New York, the most since Nov. 6. The company said its coal ash basins are operating safely.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke has been under pressure to address the way it stores coal waste from power generators after its 2014 ash spill into the Dan River. Duke said two years ago that the cost of closing and excavating all of its ponds could be as much as $10 billion.

If the proposed recommendations are not revised, “the state will have chosen the most extreme closure option that will have a significant impact on customer costs and hinder economic development,” Duke said in a statement Wednesday. There would be “significant risk” in meeting excavation deadlines by 2024, Duke said.

Environmental groups said the recommendations lacked a firm commitment from the state. “The Department of Environmental Quality just ducked its responsibility and punted it into the future,” said Peter Harrison, attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance, which is suing Duke for its coal-ash pollution in North Carolina.

Duke doesn’t have an estimate yet on the cost of the state recommendation, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good said in a conference call with reporters. Digging up and removing coal-ash from its basins in North Carolina by 2024 would cost more than $4 billion, Good said.

“It’s fair to say that if we have to excavate all of our basins, it would be significantly higher costs for our customers,” she said.

The state should consider allowing the company to cap and drain water from certain ash pits, which can be done at less expense and is recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a safe option, Good said. Duke is working with state regulators on offering drinking water options for those who live near ash ponds, she said.

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