Introduction to Coal Ash in NC
North Carolina’s leading environmental agency has devoted significant resources to address coal ash in recent years.
DEQ filed four lawsuits in 2013 alleging violations of state law regarding unlawful discharges and groundwater contamination at all 14 Duke Energy facilities. In 2014, structural issues came to the fore when an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River in Eden after a stormwater pipe beneath an ash pond at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station ruptured Feb. 2. The pipe was sealed later in the month.
Addressing coal ash at facilities across North Carolina
- A major thrust of DEQ’s work gathered comprehensive data about coal ash facilities statewide. The information has been essential in DEQ's prioritization of closure plans for all 14 facilities with coal ash storage ponds.
- Duke Energy has provide the state with environmental assessments as required by state law.
- Public and private drinking water wells within 1,500 feet of each facility are being evaluated for numerous constituents that could indicate the presence of any contamination associated with coal ash.
- DEQ is evaluating the utility’s existing wastewater discharge permits, as well as reviewing wastewater permit renewals and stormwater permit applications for the coal ash facilities. The stormwater and wastewater permits are subject to public comment periods that will include public hearings.
- Staff with the department’s dam safety program inspected all 32 coal ash impoundments and reviewed video of the piping systems at each facility. The state program identified 63 areas of concern at 30 coal ash impoundments and directed Duke to provide repair plans. The department received all 63 plans and has reviewed and approved nearly half of them
Closing the coal ash impoundments
- The Coal Ash Management Act puts Duke Energy on a timetable to close all its coal ash ponds.
- Activity started quickly to reuse coal ash currently stored at several Duke Energy plants.
- The utility has also announced plans to reuse some coal ash at its Asheville Power Plant at an existing lined structural fill project at the Asheville Regional Airport and to transport some of the coal ash from the Dan River facility to an existing lined landfill in Jetersville, Va.
Restoring natural resources impacted by the Dan River spill
- DEQ and other natural resource trustees entered into a cooperative Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process with Duke Energy, the party responsible for the spill. The process aims to restore natural resources and the services they provide. To meet this goal, the trustees recover funds via restoration projects.
- DEQ announced a partnership with the EPA in which both agencies are working together on enforcement action for environmental violations associated with coal ash facilities and to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act at all Duke Energy’s coal-fired facilities.
- DEQ also continues to pursue lawsuits the agency filed against Duke Energy in 2013 before the spill. The lawsuits were filed based on Clean Water Act violations at all the utility’s plants with coal ash storage facilities.
- North Carolina has 14 coal-fired power plants regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which governs wastewater discharges to surface waters.
- The N.C. Division of Water Resources handles all permitting under the National Pollutant Discharge System, or NPDES, permit program. The state agency regulates technology- and water quality-based effluent limits, compliance with groundwater standards for activities associated with the ash ponds and stormwater associated with industrial activities. The NPDES permit includes language regarding ash pond structures, but the responsibility for inspecting ash pond integrity falls under the jurisdiction of the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources. More on this topic is discussed under “Land” below.
- The N.C. Division of Water Resources also regulates the reuse of coal ash – or coal combustion residuals - for concrete, brick, cover for landfills, overlay for roads and driveways, material for traction on roads during snow or ice events and a host of other beneficial uses.
- The N.C. General Assembly amended the North Carolina Dam Safety Law in 2009 to include jurisdiction over impoundments at the coal-fired power plants, including coal ash ponds. This means that existing coal ash impoundments that are at least 15 feet high and capable of impounding at least 10 acre-feet must be inspected by the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources’ dam safety inspectors and maintained in good repair.
- Before starting new construction, modification, repair or removal of these impoundments, the individual or company seeking a permit is required to receive state approval of engineering plans and specifications under the North Carolina Dam Safety Law.
- The N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources has conducted initial inspections of all existing coal ash waste impoundments in North Carolina and determined that Duke Energy and Progress Energy together had 23 active and 11 inactive ash pond impoundments as of August 2010. The state inspectors also determined there are no problems threatening the immediate safety of the impoundments. Deficiencies requiring corrective actions were found at four active coal ash ponds and one inactive ash pond.
- Another DEQ agency, the N.C. Division of Waste Management, regulates coal ash as a solid waste. Generators of coal ash are required by state law to obtain a permit from the N.C. Division of Waste Management before operating a landfill to dispose of dry coal ash. Generators of coal ash are also required to notify the division if they intend to reuse dry coal ash as a structural fill, a term used to describe a building pad, parking lot or a foundation for a structure.
- The Division of Waste Management's Hazardous Waste Section is responsible for administering the portions of the NC Hazardous Waste Management Rules that pertain to facilities seeking an operating or post-closure permit and to those facilities who must investigate and remediate releases of hazardous waste constituents to the environment via their permit or other legal mechanism. The portions of the N.C. rules that encompass these facilities can be found in 15A NCAC 13A .0101-.0119, and adopt by reference the applicable Federal RCRA rules.
- The N.C. Division of Air Quality regulates the handling and burning of coal for power production, but the agency is not typically involved in the regulation of coal ash. The only circumstances in which the state Division of Air Quality might be involved in the regulation of coal ash would be if a facility chose to do something with the ash that could result in air emissions, such as burning it.
- If someone wanted to burn coal ash, they would need to apply for an air quality permit or modification. Then division staff members would evaluate the application and modeling to determine what controls would be needed to ensure that they did not exceed air quality standards.