North Carolina regulators are cracking down on Duke Energy for allowing storm water to flow unauthorized from its coal plants into state rivers and lakes. Regulators have known about the runoff for years, but are taking action amidst allegations they have been too soft on Duke.
Like many homes and businesses, Duke Energy has storm water pipes to corral the water when it rains. At many of its 14 coal plants in North Carolina, the storm water runs into nearby rivers and lakes. And the state environmental agency has known about that for years. But, when a storm water pipe failed at the Dan River coal plant last month, at least 30,000 tons of coal ash spilled into that river.
State environmental spokeswoman Bridget Munger says her agency did not have enough information about that plant.
“There were a lot of surprises, for example that pipe that failed,” says Munger. “We thought that was reinforced concrete, when in fact a segment of it was corrugated steel. That’s where it failed and triggered the spill into the river, and at this point we don’t want any surprises.”
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has issued “notices of violation” at five coal plants, where storm water is running unregulated into rivers. Those plants include the Cliffside Steam Station in Rutherford County. The notices require Duke to apply in the next 30 days for permits, which will lay out guidelines for water testing and state oversight of the storm water systems. Munger says DENR could also fine Duke for not having sought permits, even though the state never required them. The agency did not discuss the notices of violation with Duke before issuing them, according to Munger.
DENR has received scrutiny since the Dan River spill from environmental groups, the media and the federal government. Environmental groups have accused the state of complacency—allowing the coal ash ponds to sit on the banks of rivers with little oversight. The U.S. Justice Department has initiated a criminal investigation into the relationship between Duke and state regulators.
Duke has declined to comment about the notices, other than to say it will respond to DENR.