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EPA To Seek Input In Charlotte On Coal Ash

The EPA is in Charlotte tomorrow seeking public input on "coal ash." It's what's leftover from burning coal to make electricity and it's currently stored in more than a dozen ponds around the state. In December 2008, a dam broke and dumped more than a billion gallons of toxic sludge onto a nearby community. That was coal ash, and it led to Tuesday's hearing in Charlotte. "What's at stake with this meeting is public health and whether we as a public are going to sit aside and let electric utilities throw their waste in our drinking water supplies," says David Merryman with the Catawba Riverkeeper environmental group. Duke Energy operates almost all of the 13 coal-ash ponds in North Carolina. Most are near lakes and rivers - including Charlotte's main drinking source, Mountain Island Lake. The Catawba Riverkeeper recently found high levels of arsenic and other pollutants where the pond meets the lake. "Storing this coal ash waste in ponds directly on the shoreline of Mountain Island Lake is completely ridiculous," says Merryman. "That ash basin is fully protecting the environment," says Erin Culbert, spokeswoman for Duke Energy. "We continue to believe that coal ash waste should continue to be regulated as a non-hazardous waste." The EPA is seeking public comment on three different proposals for regulating disposal of coal ash, which to this point has not been regulated at all. Environmental groups support the strictest of the proposals, which would treat coal ash like a hazardous waste and require that it be stored in protective containers on land. Existing ash ponds would be cleaned and closed down. Duke Energy says that would cost billions of dollars and make cement and wallboard manufacturers wary of using the leftovers from burning coal. "We continue to believe there would be a significant stigma in using those products," says Culbert. "And for us at Duke Energy since that would pretty much double the volume of materials we would have to dispose of, that creates a real disposal problem and a lot of expense." Duke Energy supports a less-stringent proposal by the EPA that would simply require more monitoring of the ponds but not brand coal ash as "hazardous." Information on EPA Coal Ash public hearing: When: Tuesday September 14,10am-9pm. Morning session from 10am to 12pm, afternoon session from 1pm to 5pm, evening session from 6:30pm to 9pm or later. Where: Holiday Inn Charlotte (Airport), 2707 Little Rock Road, Charlotte, NC 28214