Earth & Energy

Civil rights panel to hear about coal ash

A protester in front of Duke Energy’s headquarters in Charlotte last May.
A protester in front of Duke Energy’s headquarters in Charlotte last May.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hear presentations next week on coal ash stored near minority and poor communities, an issue of keen interest to some North Carolina residents.

Charlotte journalist Rhiannnon Fionn, who blogs about ash at Coal Ash Chronicles, will speak at the Jan. 22 briefing in Washington, D.C.

Other speakers with North Carolina connections will be Peter Harrison of Waterkeeper Alliance and Duke University economics professor Christopher Timmins.

The commission is an independent agency that advises the president and Congress and produces an annual enforcement report. Its 2016 report will focus on toxic materials produced or stored by utilities near minority neighborhoods.

No community residents from North Carolina appear on a speaker list for the Jan. 22 briefing. But hundreds live near Duke Energy’s 14 retired or operating coal-fired power plants in the state.

Duke stores 157 million tons of ash at those plants, although some of it is beginning to be moved elsewhere for permanent disposal. A pipe rupture dumped up to 39,000 tons of ash into the Dan River in February 2014.

For much of last year, Duke and state regulators pored over data from hundreds of test wells to learn whether metals in ash have reached communities. Duke says that has occurred only near its Wilmington power plant, but the state hasn’t yet reached a conclusion.

A database of civil rights complaints filed with the Environmental Protection Agency shows none from North Carolina, involving coal ash, in the past decade.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender