Why we shouldn’t trust Duke Energy’s plan on coal ash

Residents of Dukeville near Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station in 2014.
Residents of Dukeville near Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station in 2014. Associated Press

From Sam Perkins, Catawba Riverkeeper, in response to “The next, safe steps on coal ash” (March 6):

Last Sunday’s opinion piece from Duke Energy was a deeply disturbing take on its future approach to unlined, leaking coal ash, indicative of a company that has not truly learned anything after decades of negligence that led to spills, criminal guilty pleas and probation. But through April 18th, there is an opportunity for people to weigh in on whether Duke will reform its ways.

Duke asserts that its studies reveal groundwater at nearby Allen, Buck and Marshall is only moving away from drinking water wells. First, were that true, it would still mean there is groundwater contamination moving to adjacent drinking water reservoirs. Furthermore, leaving these massive unlined pits – piled up to 130 feet high on the reservoir banks – in place still risks a catastrophic failure into our region’s drinking water reservoirs.

The ensuing crisis, with well more than one million people served by municipal drinking water intakes downstream, would be unprecedented.

But let’s look at Duke’s studies, performed by Duke and its hired engineering firms who don’t dare give Duke an answer other than what it wants to hear. Even Duke-sympathizer N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has noted that Duke has not provided enough information to even propose specific risk classifications for multiple sites, including Allen, Buck and Marshall. Thus, in its initial risk classification, DEQ classified five sites in the nonexistent “low-to-intermediate” category. “Intermediate-risk” sites must be cleaned up. “Low-risk” sites can be left in place. Big difference.

Should we trust an environmental criminal to leave and manage leaking coal ash high on the banks of our drinking water reservoirs? No. Both good science and Duke’s history of behavior say otherwise, and throughout March and April, there is an opportunity for the public to let decision makers know how it feels about Duke being allowed to leave coal ash in place.

Risk classifications will determine closure requirements. The state is seeking public comment on these classifications. Everyone in the Carolinas concerned about clean water for their family and community should comment. Seven leaking, unlined sites across North Carolina, including three near Charlotte, may be left leaking and sitting in groundwater next to drinking water sources unless people speak up. Leaving these sites in place is dangerous for our water, our families and communities, and even Duke’s shareholders.

We have enough information to merit real cleanups. Speak up and submit comments to help secure cleanups and protect our water from Duke’s polluting coal ash for generations to come.