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Federal coal ash rule monitoring reveals high groundwater radioactivity at NC sites; EPA tries to slash requirements!

On March 2nd, the deadline passed for coal-fired power plants to post the results of their groundwater monitoring in an annual report that is required under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 coal combustion residuals (CCR) rule for storage and disposal of coal ash. The monitoring is required to determine the extent that the coal ash impoundments and landfills are contaminating groundwater. Concerning levels of radioactivity were found at 11 out of the 18 Duke Energy plants.

Among the highest was the Asheville Steam Station in Arden, NC at 38 times the federal radioactivity limit for drinking water. In addition to the alarming levels of radioactivity from radium, the results also showed that Duke Energy is contaminating groundwater with arsenic, lead, mercury, and many other toxic coal ash pollutants. Data in the 20,000 page annual report showed that the levels of toxic contamination often exceeded state and federal groundwater and drinking water standards in monitoring wells near many of Duke’s plants. The report provides irrefutable proof that the basins continue to leak and pollute neighboring groundwater supplies across the state.

Statewide Actions

Despite the staggering results from the annual reports, Duke Energy still plans to leave about 70% of its NC ash in the ground by capping it  in place. NC DEQ officials at the Division of Water Resource plan to review the data and compare it with background levels to determine if the contaminants could be naturally occurring.

Please call Governor Cooper at (919) 814-2000 and tell him to hold Duke Energy accountable for the results that show ongoing contamination at coal ash sites across the state. You can also email or call Jamie Kritzer, at DEQ Public Affairs,, with comments or questions regarding DEQ’s review of the groundwater data.

Federal Actions

In a deeply misguided effort, the EPA is proposing amendments to roll back the very rule that requires the groundwater sampling and release of this data! The 2015 CCR rule set a clear process with deadlines for utilities to assess groundwater conditions and potential human risks, to provide the public with timely data and information regarding those risks, and to take action to eliminate any unacceptable risks to the environment.

On March 1st, the EPA directly threatened impacted communities when Administrator Scott Pruitt signed the first of two rules that propose to amend the 2015 rule, saying the changes are expected to save industry between $32 million and $100 million per year.  EPA has proposed to revise the 2015 rule to allow coal ash to be used in the construction of cover systems for CCR units that are closed by capping the toxic waste in place. The EPA CCR decision is prioritizing industrial budgets over public health and the environment!

The EPA will accept written comments on the proposal through under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2017-0286 for 45 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, and it plans to hold a public hearing to receive additional feedback on the proposal. In a status report submitted in November to the U.S. Court of Appeals, EPA had committed to a 90-day public comment period on its proposed revisions to the 2015 coal ash rule, so EPA is reneging on this promise with a 45 day comment period. This is outrageous, as EPA’s proposal could be devastating to impacted communities living near coal ash basins or receiving coal ash in nearby landfills.

Thank you – your action could make a critical difference to protect NC’s groundwater and well users!

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