While public interest and scrutiny of coal ash has heightened in recent years, managing it responsibly is not new to Duke Energy.
More than 90 percent of coal ash is made of the common elements found in soils, such as silicon, iron, aluminum and calcium. Less than 1 percent is composed of trace elements. These trace elements exist naturally in soils, and were exposed to them to some degree every day. They are also found in coal and in the ash that results from burning it.
Like any other industrial byproduct, coal ash must be managed properly. Are the appropriate measures and oversight in place to do so? Indeed they are.
Its regulated. Anyone who tells you coal ash is not regulated today is trying to mislead you. Federal and state solid waste and water quality rules govern coal ash management and have for decades. Solid waste regulations dictate how the company handles, moves and stores the material.
Water quality regulations ensure surface water and groundwater are protected. State regulators evaluate plant discharges and issue permits that restrict the release of trace metals to protect the health of lakes and rivers. In addition to monitoring the compounds limited by the permits, Duke Energy monitors and reports the amounts of many more compounds so regulators can ensure those levels also remain consistently low.
Its monitored. In addition to monitoring ash basin water, Duke Energy scientists monitor lake health as a whole. Trace metals routinely comply with state surface water quality standards in Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie. These conservative standards are designed to protect public health and the environment. In many cases, trace metals are at the lowest amounts laboratory instruments can accurately measure. Water quality and aquatic life remain well protected, and local drinking water supplies are safe.
The company voluntarily monitored groundwater around North Carolina ash basins with state regulatory oversight for several years, and that program recently got more intensive. If our testing were to show any indication that neighbors groundwater was being impacted by the onsite storage of coal ash, we would work with local health officials and state regulators to address and resolve the problem.
Were accountable. Protecting our employees, neighbors and the environment is our top priority. Chances of exposure to trace elements in coal ash are remote and are reduced significantly by the management practices Duke Energy has in place. But dont just take our word for it. State regulators review surface and groundwater data submitted on a regular basis and routinely inspect all coal ash storage facilities.
Technology has improved. The company has invested millions of dollars converting to dry fly ash handling with disposal in lined landfills at nearly all its Carolinas coal plants. State regulatory programs for landfills have been revised frequently and now require synthetic liners, as well as drainage collection systems and groundwater monitoring wells. Weve been constructing landfills that way for years.
As older coal plants are retired, we will prepare to close ash basins in accordance with state regulations. This would follow a prescribed process with state oversight and approval. Duke Energy supports appropriate state non-hazardous regulations for coal ash based on federal criteria that ensure its safe management. Regulating it as hazardous waste is not only scientifically incorrect as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2000, it would result in tremendous costs to our customers with little additional environmental benefit.
Duke Energy certainly recognizes its obligation to manage coal ash responsibly and has many measures in place to do so. Other recent opinions are from advocacy groups that, bottom line, wish to stop coal as an energy source. Lets spend less time using sensationalized sound bites and more time applying any appropriate new regulations.