Gov. Pat McCrory said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday that Duke Energy has done “very little” to clean up its coal ash contamination.
“I think the record’s been quite poor because, frankly, it’s been out of sight and out of mind,” said McCrory, a longtime Duke executive. He questioned how much Duke knew about potential structural problems at its ash ponds.
The segment focused on the February ash spill into the Dan River and Duke’s continuing problem of disposing of 108 million tons of ash in North Carolina. Aerial footage showed the blackened, empty ash pond that ruptured, spilling up to 39,000 tons into the Dan.
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Correspondent Lesley Stahl noted that repeated independent inspections had recommended that Duke closely watch the stormwater pipe that broke under the pond.
Chief executive Lynn Good told Stahl that Duke did monitor the pipe, looking for leaks that would signal a problem. The pipe failed without leaking, she said.
“It was an accident,” Good said. “It didn’t work the way it should have worked. It didn’t meet our standards or our expectations.” She later added that the episode prompted Duke to “raise our standards even higher.”
While Duke has closed half of its 14 North Carolina coal-fired power plants in the past three years, ash remains stored in 32 open ponds scattered statewide.
Attorney Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has sued Duke repeatedly on behalf of environmental advocates, said it “doesn’t take a genius” to realize that ash stored near groundwater and surface water will contaminate them.
“This is no way to store industrial waste in large quantities in such a primitive way,” he said on the segment.
Duke has estimated it would cost up to $10 billion to move ash from ponds into lined landfills. A much cheaper solution, authorized by state legislators for some ponds, would be to drain them and leave the ash in place, capped to keep out water.
Holleman predicted that method would not keep water from being contaminated. “Cap in place is only pollute in place,” he said.
Contaminated groundwater has been found at each of Duke’s North Carolina plants. The segment aired footage of contaminated seepage from its Cape Fear plant in Chatham County that the state says is illegal.
“I believe our system is operating safely,” Good said.
She said there is no “quick answer” to ash disposal, saying the issue needs to be studied fully. “I cannot immediately move 108 million tons of ash,” she told Stahl.