Marshall Plant Neighbors Say Coal Ash Is 'High Risk'
More than 150 people showed up at a hearing in Hickory Tuesday night to express concern about the 30 million tons of coal ash stored at Duke Energy’s Marshall Steam Station, on Lake Norman. Thirty-two speakers quoted biblical passages, read poetry and urged state regulators to require Duke to transfer the ash to new, lined landfills, away from the lake.
It was the last of 14 hearings this month as state environmental regulators consider how and when Duke will have to clean up coal ash stored at its current and former coal-fired plants.
The state Department of Environmental Quality issued draft classifications for the coal ash sites in December. The ratings determine whether Duke must move the ash to new, lined landfills or whether it can leave the ash where it is.
Marshall is the largest coal ash storage site in the state. It’s a big risk if earthen dams around ash basins collapse, Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said before Tuesday’s hearing. That's what happened at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant in Kingsport, Tenn., in 2008.
“It is the most upstream of the three in a 29-mile span on the Catawba River. So were it to fail, you would have the most drinking water intakes affected,” he said. “So you’re talking about well more than a million people downstream who would be affected.”
Nearly all the speakers at the hearing wanted regulators to rate Marshall “high risk” - instead of the DEQ's proposed “low to intermediate” classification.
Steve English of Charlotte urged regulators to think of the future, not in terms of a few decades, but seven generations, as the Iroquois do.
“No people, no animals, no trees, no ecosystems are low priority. Everyone is high priority. And by the same token, this classification needs to immediately be changed to high risk and removed as soon as possible,” English said.
Amelia Burnette, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Duke developed models to show that leaving the ash in place would be safe.
“But in fact, its own data shows 75 percent of the ash would remain submerged. Twelve million tons of ash would remain in the groundwater,” she said.
Cliff Moon of Catawba County worried that regulators are relying too heavily on data provided by Duke Energy itself.
“We’re trusting Duke Power to give us the data that is going to determine whether this goes to high or low or intermediate. If that is so, if I’ve got that right, that’s kind of like trusting those folks from the government in Flint, Michigan,” Moon said.
Moon got people chanting “it’s a crime” along with him as he called for removal of Marshall’s coal ash.
“If even one family’s water is contaminated, it’s a crime. If one child ever gets sick because of coal ash contamination, it’s a crime. If our rivers become polluted like they once were before the 1970s, it’s a crime,” he said.
Duke community relations manager Robin Nicholson was the only speaker last night who didn’t call for the ash to be removed. She said Duke already is beginning to close its coal ash basins, focusing on safety, the environment and managing costs.
“We continue to build momentum, with ash excavation underway at several sites and comprehensive evaluations of safe closure options at other sites,” Nicholson said.
The DEQ is accepting written comments through April 18th. Final classifications are expected in late May.
State Department of Environmental Quality web page on coal ash site closures, https://deq.nc.gov/news/hot-topics/coal-ash-nc
Draft classifications for Duke's 14 coal ash sites, http://deq.nc.gov/news/hot-topics/coal-ash-nc/draft-classifications
Duke Energy’s coal ash website, http://www.duke-energy.com/ash-management/
Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation coal ash information page, http://www.catawbariverkeeper.org/issues/coal-ash