In an order issued on May 16, 2014, the North Carolina Court of Appeals denied Duke Energy's request to delay groundwater contamination clean-up at 14 of its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina. The order comes shortly after a March 6, 2014, Wake County Superior Court ruling confirming the law requires that Duke Energy must to take immediate action to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination that are currently violating water quality standards surrounding Duke's coal ash pits. Because Duke's petition to the NC Appellate Court was denied, the company will be faced with complying with the Superior Court ruling immediately in parallel court proceedings.
Data collected by DENR over several years indicates that many of Duke’s coal-fired power plants are causing groundwater contamination by storing hazardous coal ash in unlined pits often adjacent to major bodies of water, including drinking water reservoirs. The state has asserted that it can take no action without first determining how far contamination has spread, and that it lacks the legal power to require Duke to remove ash from the ponds. According to the NC Superior Court ruling, however, the state does, in fact, have authority under the North Carolina groundwater protection law to require Duke to stop the ponds from further contaminating groundwater by removing the source before the utility tackles the long-term challenge of cleaning up the groundwater it has already polluted.
Lawsuits filed by DENR earlier this year against each Duke coal-fired power plant in the state allege that Duke Energy is violating state groundwater standards with contamination at all of its plants. Those violations include thallium at the Asheville plant near the French Broad River and arsenic and selenium at the L.V. Sutton plant on the Cape Fear River. Groundwater contamination at both facilities has been shown to be spreading towards local communities and water resources. Duke has already bought out neighboring property owners because of contaminated groundwater spreading, and it has had to supply alternate drinking sources to nearby homeowners at several of its plants--but has not yet stopped the source of the contamination.
Conservation groups are hopeful that this month's ruling will move the state to use its authority to require that the ash be removed from the ponds and stored in dry, lined landfills.