A federal judge has ordered the EPA to decide whether the byproduct from burning coal is a hazardous material that must be regulated. That decision will have big implications for North Carolina.
All 14 of Duke Energy’s coal plants in North Carolina store coal ash in ponds, which contain arsenic, lead, mercury, and other heavy metals. The ponds are not sealed at the bottom, so a small amount leaks into the groundwater and nearby rivers. Seeps from the ash ponds feed into Mountain Island Lake, which supplies drinking water to the Charlotte region. Both Duke and the state maintain the amount is not harmful, although the state is suing Duke to make the company study the effects further.
Today, a federal court in D.C. ordered the EPA to review whether coal ash should be classified as a hazardous material, after environmental groups brought a suit last year. While the court did not force the EPA to classify the ash as hazardous like those groups wanted, if the EPA does start regulating it, that could mean major changes for Duke and how it stores coal ash. For instance, the company could be forced to line the ponds to prevent seeps or remove the ash altogether—both expensive prospects.