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DEQ Meetings Look At Duke's Plans To Leave Coal Ash In Place At 6 Plants

Duke Energy's Marshall Plant on Lake Norman has about 32 million tons of coal ash stored on site.
David Boraks
Duke Energy's Marshall Plant on Lake Norman has about 32 million tons of coal ash stored on site.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has begun public meetings to discuss how coal ash should be cleaned up at six Duke Energy sites around the state. They include plants on Lake Norman and Lake Wylie.

Coal ash is what's left after coal is burned to produce electricity, and it contains toxic elements such as arsenic and selenium.  About 150 million tons of it have piled up over the past century at Duke Energy's 14 current and former coal plants in North Carolina.

An estimated 32 million tons is stored at the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman. What to do with that ash is the subject of a public meeting Thursday night.

Lawyer Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center wants the DEQ to force Duke to remove the ash. 

"What we've been advocating for is for Duke Energy to clean up the mess it created and simply move this ash, over a reasonable period of time, to lined, safe dry storage away from the waterway and out of the groundwater," Holleman said Wednesday.

State laws and legal settlements require Duke to dig up the ash at eight of the 14 sites, including the Riverbend plant in Gaston County, where the work is almost finished.

At the remaining six sites, including Marshall on Lake Norman and the Allen Plant on Lake Wylie, Duke wants to cover the ash and leave it where it is. Duke argues that coal ash is safe and that excavating all its sites would take years and cost billions of dollars - costs that are being passed on to customers.

State regulators are seeking public comment. Thursday night's meeting includes a presentation and Q&A on environmental and health issues. It begins at 6 p.m. at Sherrills Ford Elementary School.

A similar meeting on the Allen plant is scheduled Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. at Stuart Cramer High School, in Belmont. 

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.