Wednesday, May 18, 2016

State releases deadlines for coal ash pond closures, will request changes to coal ash law

May 18, 2016

The state environmental department today released proposed classifications for all coal ash ponds in North Carolina, while at the same time asking the General Assembly to allow the reconsideration of those classifications 18 months from now.  The classifications are based on the current risk of each pond’s impact on public health and the environment.  However, work that is already either planned or underway could significantly change the risk posed by the ponds.

“The deadlines in the coal ash law are too compressed to allow adequate repairs to be completed,” said Donald R. van der Vaart, secretary of the state environmental department. “It also does not allow for revisions to the classifications based on new information about a pond’s risk to public health and the environment.”

The proposed classifications include the eight mandated as high priority under the law, and 25 classified by today’s action as intermediate.  High risk ponds must be dug up and closed by 2019 and intermediate ponds must be dug up and closed by 2024. The main risk factors driving today’s classifications were dam deficiencies that are currently being repaired, and potential impacts to nearby groundwater.  Recent discussions indicate that providing nearby residents permanent alternative water will relieve any future concerns.

“The focus of the coal ash law was to safely close all coal ash ponds in North Carolina,” continued Secretary van der Vaart. “The intent was not to set pond closure deadlines based on incomplete information. Making decisions based on incomplete information could lead to the expenditure of billions of dollars when spending millions now would provide equal or better protection. The understanding we have today reflects countless hours of scientific and technical work by both state engineers and Duke Energy as well as thousands of comments by the public.”

Although no dams present an imminent risk to life or property, a number of ponds were rated intermediate because of unfinished repairs.  State regulators will use their existing legal authority to ensure those repairs are completed by the end of this year.

The residents’ well water meets federal requirements for safe drinking water. However, Duke Energy has submitted a study that evaluates the feasibility of supplying permanent alternative water to nearby residents. The state environmental department will recommend to the General Assembly that the classifications be re-evaluated after the dam safety repairs are made and the utility provides these permanent alternative water sources to nearby well owners.

These proposed classifications will become final 60 days from today.

For a map of the proposed classifications for each coal ash impoundment, click here.

A table that shows the risk factors that determined each pond’s classification can be found here