A superior court judge in Raleigh has ordered Duke Energy to remove coal ash from three plants in eastern North Carolina. The ruling comes in lawsuits filed by environmentalists in 2013.
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the suits a year before a major spill of coal ash at Duke’s Dan River plant in Eden.
Judge Paul Ridgeway’s order requires cleanups at plants on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington and Moncure, the Neuse River in Goldsboro, and the Lumber River in Lumberton. It formalizes a ruling he announced in court last October.
The state Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, passed after the Dan River spill, also requires cleanups. Under that law, the state Department of Environmental Quality is currently considering how to rate the risks of coal ash at all 14 of Duke’s plants, and whether to order Duke to remove the ash.
DEQ had opposed the lawsuit. But in December regulators put the three sites on its list for coal-ash removal, when it issued draft classifications for coal ash sites.
Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said his group wants Duke Energy to remove coal ash at all its North Carolina sites, as is happening in South Carolina. He said public comments on the DEQ's proposed classifications have been overwhelmingly in favor of removal.
"All across the state, hundreds of citizens have commented, urging that the ash be excavated from these sites. The public has been very very strong in public hearings and in comments that these sites should be cleaned up," Holleman said.
Environmentalists are waiting for rulings in other suits, as well as the DEQ’s final risk classifications, which are expected in May.
A state DEQ spokeswoman said even without the court case, Duke's coal ash sites would be cleaned up. "Every coal ash pond will be cleaned up and closed as required under CAMA, and DEQ’s risk classifications reflect that," she said.
Duke Energy also has said it plans to excavate and remove ash at the sites.
This story has been updated to add a comment from the DEQ and note that the state's Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 also requires coal ash sites to be cleaned up. We've also added a note about Duke's cleanup plans.
Duke Energy's coal ash management web page, with a map of sites and links to closure plans, http://www.duke-energy.com/ash-management/
Department of Environmental Quality 'Coal Ash in NC' page, http://deq.nc.gov/news/hot-topics/coal-ash-nc