• Coal ash sparks concern for potential Chapel Hill housing development

    By: Ian Walniuk, The Daily Tar Heel April 19, 2022 Residents, Chapel Hill Town Council members and lawyers are raising concern over ongoing plans to develop the Chapel Hill Police Department lot. Council members voted 8-1 to pass a nonbinding agreement to continue discussion on potentially developing the area located off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, during a town council meeting last month. Many of the members argued that moving forward with the site aligns with the Town's goals of building affordable housing and increasing walkability across the area. Town Council member Adam Searing — the lone opposing vote — said during the meeting that developing this site poses risks for surrounding communities. “Every child in Chapel Hill deserves the chance to come to school healthy and ready to learn,” Adam Searing said. “If we decide tonight to let some of our children grow up on giant mounds of hazardous coal ash, that goal becomes far harder to achieve.” Concern surrounding development on the lot has persisted since coal ash was first identified on the site in 2013. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water and the surrounding air. The proposed site plan includes a new municipal services center, as well as multifamily housing and a community green space. However, the Town has not approved any construction on the site yet. Nick Torrey, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, criticized Town Council members for their concerns surrounding potentially removing the coal ash, citing how tens of millions of tons of coal ash have been safely cleaned up across the southeastern United States. “There are all kinds of protocols and regulations about how to do that safely, and that’s being done safely,” Torrey said. The Town plans to move forward with an economic development agreement in June. They will then enter a 12-18-month environmental risk assessment process, followed by an environmental management plan for site activities that will be prepared by environmental engineers. Risk assessment In 2019, environmental consulting firm Hart & Hickman completed its risk assessment of the site. The report determined the lot can be repurposed safely without removing all of the existing coal ash and debris. It also recommended interim measures to remove coal ash located close to Bolin Creek. Torrey added that the cancer risk threshold of coal ash exposure had been modified from 1-in-100,000 under the 2019 Environmental Risk Assessment to 1-in-10,000 in the 2021 Environmental Risk Assessment conducted by Hart & Hickman. Chapel Hill Economic Development Specialist Laura Selmer said because the risk assessment looks at the site in its current state — as opposed to potential risk once the site is fully developed — it is reasonable to assume any actions the Town takes will lower the risk of exposure to cancer-causing materials even further. “We’re confident that with the proper mitigation measures, we’ll achieve a safe site,” she said. In response, the Town removed around 1,000 tons of coal ash and soil near the Bolin Creek Trail in 2020, though some coal ash still remains on the site. If the site is developed, the Town plans to cap, contain and cover the coal ash, which would reduce community risk and exposure to potential containments. Town officials estimate that removing the coal ash would cost between $13 and $16 million and would take three or more years to complete, in a fact sheet on the Town’s website. They also state that removing the ash could prove hazardous to Bolin Creek and surrounding communities. Concerns persist Despite assurances from Town Council members and local officials, some residents and environmental advocates have been critical of the Town’s proposals. Torrey said that the Town should go beyond the minimum standards to protect the community and to protect clean water. “What we’ve urged all along is that the Town do the maximum possible to protect people and to protect clean water, and that includes being willing to commit to going beyond the minimum standards that the state might allow for this project," he said. "So that’s something they need to do more to commit to.” Pamela Schultz, an environmental engineer and a member of the Chapel Hill Stormwater Advisory Board, was critical of the Town’s claim that 5,000 truckloads would be required to remove all the coal ash. She said that the true number would likely be lower. The estimate was derived from a 2017 report, but the Town’s consultants have recently said the amount of ash on the site is probably lower than their initial estimates. However, the Town has not lowered its estimate of the number of truckloads. "The Town has said many times that they don’t think it’s as much as they originally estimated," Schultz said. The Brownfields Program In 2019, the site was declared eligible for the Brownfields Program, which would allow the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to work with prospective developers to clean up and redevelop sites that currently pose a risk of environmental contamination. Environmental lawyer Robert Gelblum said the Brownfields program is typically used when a developer wants to repurpose a site with potential contamination, but is worried about liability. “So they get this agreement whereby, instead of paying millions and millions of dollars to have to literally clean up and remediate the pollution, they negotiate this agreement which typically only requires land-use restrictions,” he said. According to Gelblum, such land-use restrictions include a prohibition on the use of groundwater and the development of senior and childcare centers. He believes developers typically prefer these land-use restrictions to removing environmental contaminants. “There’s no doubt the developer is hoping to avoid actual clean-up costs,” he said. Moving forward, Schultz said that she would favor removing the ash that is easily accessible on the slope. “In remediation, you’d call this source removal, where you know you’re not going to get 100 percent of the contaminated material, but you do your best to try and get the most concentrated potential source of future exposure and risk,” she said. Searing added that he would like to see the Town reevaluate costs associated with removing the coal ash. “I’d like to get three new estimates about how much it costs to move (the coal ash) and where it would go, and not from companies that we’re paying to tell us what we want to hear,” he said. Read the article on The Daily Tar Heel


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  • Clean Water for NC has a new NC Energy Digest!

    Clean Water has introduced our new NC Energy Digest, with weekly news about North Carolina’s energy landscape. This digest will combine two of our existing digests into one, and explores news and events related to coal & coal ash; pipelines, oil & gas; biomass & biogas; plus utility rates, environmental justice, climate change, and more! What’s inside the NC Energy Digest?  EVENTS: You can expect to find out about public hearings related to permits for energy facilities and utility rate cases. We’ll also let you know about any relevant events hosted by NC community or advocacy groups to help hold polluters and government agencies accountable. NEWS: The news digest will focus on NC specifically but also bring in federal items that could impact North Carolinians. We’ll keep everything organized into categories for you, and provide links and brief overviews. If it’s an opinion piece, we’ll be sure to indicate that it’s commentary. Our aim is to provide you with information on energy matters that could impact you and your NC neighbors!  How do I sign up? If you are already signed up for our Coal Ash Updates or Fracking and Pipeline Updates, no need to register, as you have likely seen our January editions in your inbox. If you’d like to begin receiving our weekly NC Energy Digest, great! Just sign up here!


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  • Biden Administration Announces Crackdown on Toxic Coal Ash Pollution

    By: Earth Justice, January 11 For the first time, the federal government is enforcing rules that require the coal industry to clean up toxic coal ash waste. This pollution can leak into groundwater and drinking water sources. Earthjustice was deeply involved in passing the original coal ash rules as part of our mission to secure clean air and drinking water for all. Since then, we've been fighting in court to make sure the government upholds them. Coal ash is the leading source of water contamination in the U.S.  Coal ash contains a long list of toxic chemicals, including arsenic, radium, and other carcinogens, as well as several metals that can impair children’s developing brains. There are 738 regulated coal ash dump sites in the U.S. Coal ash ponds hold enough ash to fill train cars that circle the earth more than 5 times over. According to analysis of the industry’s own test results, 91 percent of coal plants severely polluted the underlying groundwater to levels that exceed federal safe standards for drinking water. Coal plants are disproportionately located in communities where people suffer higher incidences of cancer, asthma and more. The EPA just told several coal plants they must follow federal rules about how coal ash is managed.  On January 11 the EPA responded to nine power plants that applied to delay closure of their toxic ash ponds. The EPA did not grant any of the nine applications: it rejected three outright, found four incomplete and one ineligible, and indicated it would only conditionally approve one application after compliance violations were resolved. This is the first time the EPA is interpreting and enforcing the federal government’s rules on coal ash since those rules were passed in 2015. The Trump administration tried to roll back the rules, even after a federal court sided with Earthjustice and ordered the government to strengthen coal ash regulations. Most coal facilities have taken measures to hide toxic coal ash contamination and leave their plants in a condition that will permanently plague local communities with hazardous chemicals. The EPA needs to reverse this course and hold utilities responsible for cleanup and safe closure of toxic ash ponds. Today marks the first step of this process. The EPA’s decisions will have wide application and set a precedent for the hundreds of U.S. coal plants and the coal ash ponds and landfills they manage. [View a map of coal plants contaminating groundwater] The EPA’s decisions establish that:  Coal ash ponds can’t be closed with ash sitting IN groundwater. Across the nation, at least 150 ash ponds are within five feet of groundwater, with a lot of those sitting in direct contact with the water. Leaving ponds of toxic waste in contact with groundwater creates never-ending leaching of dangerous chemicals like arsenic, cobalt, cadmium, lead and radium, which can cause cancer and neurological harm. Coal plant operators must clean up groundwater contaminated by coal ash and cannot get away with “do-nothing” solutions that simply wait for the toxic metals to be diluted or flow into the nearest drinking water well or surface water. Coal plant operators must openly and honestly determine the extent of water contamination caused by coal ash at their plants and can no longer hide behind intentionally false sampling and analysis that conceals the true extent of the poisoned groundwater. Read the article on Earth Justice


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  • EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds

    By: Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill November 24, 2020 A coalition of nine environmental groups is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a rule that extends the life of giant pits of toxic coal sludge, risking contamination of nearby water sources. The July rule allows for the more than 400 coal ash pits across the nation, where coal residue is mixed with liquid and stored in open-air, often unlined ponds, to stay open as late as 2038. “Right now toxic chemicals are poisoning water across the country because of dirty coal plants. The Trump administration acted illegally when it gave coal plants many…


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  • EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds

    By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill July 30, 2020 The Trump administration is extending the life of giant pits of toxic coal sludge, a move critics say further risks contamination of nearby water sources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) late Wednesday announced it had finalized a new regulation for the more than 400 coal ash pits across the nation, where coal residue is mixed with liquid and stored in open air, often unlined ponds. “Today’s action makes changes to the closure regulations for coal ash storage that enhance protections for public health while giving electric utilities enough time to retrofit or replace unlined impoundment…


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  • Stopping Rate Hikes for Duke Energy’s Dirty Energy & Climate-Busting Plans!

    The fight for full excavation of Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash pits finally came to a close when the company signed a settlement agreement with DEQ and community groups to remove over 80 million tons of coal ash from unlined pits across the state. While this marks a major victory for impacted community members living near these sites, Duke is trying to slap them with the bill to pay for massive cleanup. Rate cases for both Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) and Duke Energy Progress (DEP) are currently underway, with Duke seeking to recover costs associated with coal ash cleanup, upgrades…


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  • Consumers shouldn’t pay cleanup costs for coal ash dumping

    Op-Ed by Rachel Velez, Clean Water for North Carolina Published in the Burlington Times-News January 26, 2020 Impacted community members and environmental justice activists won a huge victory earlier this month when the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, community groups and Duke Energy signed a settlement agreement requiring the utility giant to fully excavate 80 million tons of coal ash from leaking, unlined pits in six sites across the state. This isn’t a complete victory, however, if Duke Energy is allowed to shove the cost of its coal ash cleanup onto customers — and that’s exactly what it’s asking the N.C. Utilities Commission…


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  • Judge’s ruling revokes coal ash landfill permits in Chatham, Lee counties

    By: Jessica Patrick, WRAL December 16, 2019 CHATHAM COUNTY, N.C. — Environmental groups are praising a decision revoking permits for coal ash landfills in Chatham and Lee counties. On Friday, a judge ruled the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) exceeded its authority and failed to use proper procedure by issuing permits for the Brickhaven and Colon mine sites, according to the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL). The ruling comes after environmentalists voiced concerns over groundwater contamination from coal ash, the powdery substance that remains after burning coal. Coal ash ponds located…


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  • Coal ash case: DEQ 2, Duke Energy 0

    By: Lisa Sorg, NC Policy Watch Oct. 29, 2019 An administrative law judge has again ruled against Duke Energy, determining that state environmental regulators acted appropriately in several aspects of requiring the utility to fully excavate its unlined coal ash basins. Judge Selina Malherbe ruled on two motions yesterday: DEQ provided adequate notice to Duke Energy prior to issuing the April 1, 2019 closure election decision; DEQ properly limited Duke Energy to filing a single closure plan for each coal ash impoundment. “The judge’s ruling confirms that DEQ acted openly and transparently as we made an informed decision on the closure of the coal…


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  • Lead Isotopes Provide New Tool for Tracking Coal Ash in Dust, Soil and Sediments

    Featuring: Avner Vengosh, Gary Dwyer, Zhen Wang Oct. 22, 2019 DURHAM, N.C. – Inhaling dust that contains fly ash particles from coal combustion has been linked to lung and heart disease, cancer, nervous system disorders and other ill effects. But tracking the presence of coal ash in dust has been a challenge for scientists. Until now. Researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill have developed a new forensic tracer that uses lead isotopes to detect coal fly ash in dust and other solids, including soil and sediments. Fly ash is a fine particulate produced by burning pulverized coal. Tests…


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