Gov. Pat McCrory recently proposed legislation that would require Duke Energy to move its polluting coal ash to safer storage away from our waterways at some of its power plants, including the Riverbend plant near Charlotte, but not from all of them. This will protect some communities, but Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill, Pineville, Charlotte, Gastonia, Belmont, Mt. Holly and all of Mecklenburg and Lincoln Counties will still be at risk. Each of these communities draws drinking water from the Catawba River below the Marshall Steam Plant on Lake Norman.
Just upstream of Mecklenburg County, Duke Energy stores nearly a billion gallons of wet coal ash in an 80-acre unlined pit at the Marshall Steam Plant, directly on the banks of the Catawba River. North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has stated under oath in court filings that one or more of the dikes or berms for the lagoons at the Marshall facility are discharging through numerous unpermitted flows, leaks, and channels into the Catawba River.
Sampling of groundwater near the Marshall plant has found boron at levels 54 percent above state standards, iron at 237 percent above state standards, and manganese at 284 percent above state standards.
These coal ash dumps are always at risk of catastrophic failure, triggered by a flood, a tropical storm, or simply age and neglect. On the Dan River, an old storm-water pipe collapsed on a normal day. Duke Energy dumps its coal ash in outdated, unlined pits next to our rivers and drinking water, held back only by dikes made of soil that leak, and has had multiple dike breaks and failures at its coal ash lagoons across North Carolina in addition to the colossal spill on the Dan River this year. The EPA rates the dams at the Marshall plant as high hazard, meaning that a dam failure is likely to cause a loss of human life and devastating impacts to Lake Norman and the Catawba River.
Mecklenburg, Lincoln and Gaston County communities are all at risk of a Dan River catastrophe, which would have devastating consequences.
There is a simple solution. Duke can move this coal ash away from the Catawba River to safe, dry storage in a lined landfill, or recycle it to make concrete or other products. That is what the other two utilities in the Carolinas are doing, just across the border in South Carolina, without raising customer rates. Duke should take at least this step to protect our rivers and our drinking water.
Yet, Duke Energy has only indicated a willingness to remove coal ash from four of its 14 plants, including its Riverbend plant. The utility has refused to commit to moving its coal ash away from the Catawba River-Marshall site. Neither our state environmental agency nor McCrory has required Duke to do it. Our citizens deserve better. We must not allow Duke and the Governor to pick winners and losers. We all deserve clean water.
Ask Duke Energy and Gov. McCrory: Why won’t you do what is right for the entire Catawba River? And ask your legislator to protect your river and your drinking water if Duke Energy and the governor won’t do so. Tell them that our communities matter.