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Demand Grows for Duke Energy to Clean Up Toxic Coal Ash Sites

Activists, residents, and legislators are demanding that Duke Energy speed the clean up of toxic coal ash ponds, while federal authorities investigate ties between the nation's largest electricity provider and state regulators.



The recent coal ash spill to the Dan River, which provides drinking water to tens of thousands of residents in North Carolina and Virginia, highlights long-standing disagreements between environmentalists and energy providers over the pace of decommissioning toxic coal ash ponds.


Government regulators and environmental groups have been vocal for years that the 31 ash ponds– most located near lakes and rivers– at Duke Energy’s power plants in North Carolina pose a significant risk to the environment.


"Even without a spill, these settling ponds have been releasing continuous contamination into the rivers downstream from coal-fired power plants," said Avner Vengosh, a geochemistry professor at Duke University (named for the same family that founded the power company).


"We agree that the coal ash ponds are an outdated way of handling the coal ash," said Duke Energy spokeswoman Lisa Hoffman, "so that's why we're moving away from them." At the same time, Hoffman estimated that coal ash removal could take years, which is not nearly soon enough for environmental activists.


Sam Perkins, riverkeeper for the Catawba River, which also flows adjacent to coal ash ponds, responded, “All we're asking for is for Duke Energy to clean up their coal ash waste and take it somewhere away from our drinking water reservoirs."


On Sunday, February 2, a security guard reported a leak in a 27-acre pond managed by Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electricity provider. Coal ash ponds store the waste from coal burnt for electricity and are replete with such toxins as arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals. Before the power provider could contain the leak, enough toxic sludge to fill 73 Olympic-sized swimming pools spilled into the Dan River.


Since the February 2 spill was reported, a coalition of groups and activists have been calling attention to reports that Duke has been buying the loyalty of the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and on February 14th the Associated Press reported that Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the coal ash spill into the Dan River and have ordered the state environmental agency’s chief lawyer to appear next month before a grand jury.


On Saturday two North Carolina lawmakers, State Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca and House Environment Committee Vice-Chairman Chuck McGrady, announced that they will push legislation to force Duke Energy to clean out its leaky waste dumps across the state.


Greenpeace obtained this unedited footage of the Eden, North Carolina coal ash spill:


What You Can Do:


Sign the Sierra Club's petition: Tell Duke Energy to stop poisoning our water with coal ash


Sign Greenpeace's petition to Tell Duke Energy to Quit Coal and start providing cleaner, alternative sources of energy.


Supporters of clean energy from a group called Beyond Coal recently delivered a petition to Duke Energy's Asheville, NC plant demanding that the plant be converted from coal to a renewable energy.