• ACT Against Coal Ash: We Want Answers

    Watch the Livestream! Press Release 828 Martin Luther King Boulevard is the location of a police station and 60,000 cubic yards of coal ash waste in Chapel Hill. The Town acquired the property after coal ash waste was already deposited, and discovered it in 2013.The Town’s plans for remediation uses the cap and contain approach, which includes some ash removal and off site disposal, capping with 3-4 ft of clean soil, a retaining wall and restricted use of groundwater.   In May, the Town hosted a meeting which included town staff, environmental consultants, and DEQ’s Brownfields program, where the town promised to answer questions from the public. 73 members of the public, which included neighbors, local and statewide coalitions of coal ash-impacted community members, and clean water and air advocates, were allotted only 30 minutes to address these concerns and questions. Some answers were given during the meeting, while other questions would require additional research and consultation, but all were promised to be given written responses what would be posted on the Town of Chapel Hill’s Website.    We waited SEVENTY days for the Town and DEQ to post these responses, and even when they were posted, less than half the questions were answered and many were essentially evaded, overgeneralized, or pushed to future decisions in later stages of the project. The ACT group asked 34 questions. Only a couple were answered during the meeting, and none on the response document. These included questions about housing considerations, public participation, coal ash clean up and management procedures and worker protections, and reporting and monitoring.   In September, the Town posted a status update which considers a phased approach where “Under this plan, the Town would begin moving ahead with site remediation and construction of the MSC now with steps taken to allow for future development (commercial, office, or housing) on the remainder of the site at a later time.” (Status Update Town of Chapel Hill). However, the Town has yet to discuss this during a Public Regular Council meeting and answer questions we’ve been asking for FIVE months now.   Our questions and concerns remain: How will the Town ensure that this proposed development does not result in disproportionate health impacts to low-income and BIPOC community members near the site or the landfill that receives coal ash? Has the Town researched options for encapsulating coal ash and storing on site? What other options have been researched aside from cap-in-place or full excavation? Excavated coal ash from the site has been sent to Uwharrie landfill - how is this landfill set up to handle coal ash specifically to prevent air and water contamination? What types of monitoring will take place during and after construction of this project? How frequently, and how long will monitoring occur? At what stages of decision-making on this project will the public be given the opportunity to comment?   “I grew up in a rural, coal ash frontline community that is spread far from the landfills and the power plant. However Chapel Hill is a densely populated area with the landfills and power plant nestled in the midst of neighborhoods. This close proximity needs to be addressed. By putting people in harms way at the 828 MLK Location, either through housing, a work environment, or recreation of the proposed gathering place, the Town is placing an unfair burden on individuals, parents, and the greater community who serves the citizens of Chapel Hill: the health care system, teachers, police officers who risk personal exposure at work and will have to address the needs of individuals dealing with related mental health issues.” Caroline Armijo   “The town has a chance to deal with the problem in an ethical manner that respects the nearby community, and protects the health of the community. With coal ash, and the many toxic components, the usual solutions are: 1. Sweep the problem under the rug and bury or simply cap the ash. 2. Ship the problem away and dump the coal ash on another community - usually one that is low income and/or disproportionately composed of people of color. With the coal ash that has been currently been excavated from the police station grounds, unfortunately Chapel Hill has chosen to ship the ash away with little concern for the environmental and engineering designs of the new dump site. We want to raise several questions about the Uwharrie Landfill which was selected for receiving the coal ash. Since coal ash is a "non-asbestos" material, has the town ensured that the coal ash will not be spread daily on top of the Uwharrie landfill? Did the town take any steps to require that the coal ash be deposited in the lined portion? Is Chapel Hill willing to transfer its problem and just do the minimal coal ash dump transfer without taking any of these protective measures?  Has the town ever investigated the options for on-site complete encapsulation or using above-ground salt-stone technologies to solidify and protect the coal ash on-site?  Please use science, community involvement, and transparency in your on-going deliberations about how to resolve the coal ash problems.” John Wagner    “Though the Chapel Hill Town Council directs the public to its website for information about coal ash, and though we are invited to make comments on that site, I am concerned that the general public finds it too inaccessible, and the Council needs to have public forums regarding this very serious issue.” Lib Hutchby   “Despite there being no examples of successful residential redevelopment projects constructed on coal ash sites, the town has failed to answer questions related to reporting and monitoring of the site both related to human health assessments and water quality concerns.  In considering health concerns, during the Public Meeting with DEQ on May 16th, when asked if the town or DEQ has investigated the cancer rates of the current and historical occupants of 828 MLK, DEQ responded that they were not aware of such an investigation, and that that investigation would fall under NC Department of Health and Human Services and that they had not been in contact with that department. Further, according to consultants, higher concentrations of metals were identified in some perched water zones where coal ash is present in the fill. However, we ask that if this site is not excavated and no lining is installed under the site, we ask what would prevent toxins at the site from entering Bolin Creek and traveling to Jordan Lake to contaminate that drinking water source? How would a retaining wall prevent infiltration? We asked these questions and voiced these concerns during the public meeting and are still waiting for answers.” Christine Diaz   “As a resident of Chapel Hill -- a voter and a taxpayer -- I expect the elected officials and institutions in my community to be open and transparent in their pursuit of our community's safety, health, and well-being. Too few of my neighbors and friends even know about the fact that coal ash is exposed on popular public greenways like Bolin Creek -- let alone that the town is considering development that could threaten more workers, families, and children. Experts and scientists much smarter and better informed than I am have outlined grave concerns about the Town's plans; they have posed some urgent questions to the Town; and every person in our community is entitled to adequate, prompt responses in forums and platforms that are accessible to everyone. To date, the Town has failed to comply with its basic obligations with regard to the coal ash threats in our community." Isabel Geffner   We ask for the Town to respond to urgent concerns and questions before moving forward with this remediation and redevelopment to protect the health and safety of neighbors and community members who are or will be impacted by the coal ash at 828 Martin Luther King Blvd.   Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash


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  • Coal plant operators shirking responsibilities on ash cleanup, report contends

    By: Robert Zullo November 7, 2022 Duke Energy facility in NC cited as among the worst contamination sites, but company pushes back   In the wake of major coal ash spills from power plant containment ponds in Tennessee and into the Dan River along the North Carolina and Virginia border, the Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 laid out the first federal rules for managing the ash, one of the nation’s largest waste streams, and the toxins it contains. But more than seven years later, few utilities and other owners responsible for the often unlined pits where billions of tons of ash leach heavy metals and other toxins into groundwater are planning comprehensive cleanups, per a report released last Thursday by a pair of environmental groups. “This report serves as a warning bell for the need to change course to ensure that the federal rule actually restores coal ash-contaminated groundwater, closes all unlined and leaking coal ash ponds and prevents future water contamination,” the report by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice says. “Progress to clean up contaminated groundwater and safely close dangerous coal ash ponds is dismal. Industry data reveal ongoing groundwater contamination and widespread violations of the federal rule.” The report contains information on groundwater contamination, including levels of arsenic, cobalt, lithium, thallium, selenium, boron, lead and other toxins, at nearly 300 coal plant sites in 43 states and ranks the 10 top most contaminated sites, which it says are in Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Tennessee, Wyoming, Mississippi and Texas, based on sampling data released by the owners of the sites. Many are in low-income communities and communities of color and almost all of them (91%) are contaminating the groundwater, the report contends. “Quite simply, most coal plants are violating the law that requires toxic waste cleanup,” said Lisa Evans, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, during a Thursday media call. “Coal plants are polluting the nation’s water illegally and getting away with it.” Abel Russ, a senior attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, said the EPA’s 2015 regulations, called the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities rule, have done a decent job of laying out the scope of the problem at coal ash sites across the country. “But of course the rule is also meant to do something about the problem and stimulate cleanup and corrective action and we’re not seeing that as much as we should be seeing,” Russ said. Enforcement lagged during the Trump administration, and both organizations have been pushing the EPA to take more action to prod plant owners to clean up contamination, Russ and Evans said. “This rule was promulgated in 2015 followed by four years of the Trump administration where the EPA did nothing but try to remove the coal ash rule. They did not try to enforce it, there were no pronouncements on what the rule meant. And so in January of this year … EPA has started to enforce the rule. But it is industry’s argument that they’re doing it in some new or novel way, which is total nonsense.” An EPA spokeswoman said the agency would review the report but did not answer specific questions about enforcement of the 2015 rule. Bill Norton, a spokesman for Duke Energy, which has coal ash units at 20 different facilities in five states, said the company is “making great progress” on closing coal ash ponds. “We are pursuing corrective action at each site to address any groundwater contamination, and our work won’t be done until it is fully addressed,” he said. “As that work proceeds, it is critical to note that drinking and recreational water supplies remain safe from ash impacts.” He said the Environmental Integrity Project’s news release on the report — which lists the company’s Allen Steam Station in Belmont, North Carolina, as one of the 10 worst coal ash contamination sites in the country and claims Duke doesn’t plan to treat groundwater — isn’t accurate. “We are actively treating the groundwater at Allen and it has already begun to improve. We are also building new lined landfills and are excavating both ash basins and the landfill under approved closure plans that NCDEQ confirmed are “protective of public health and the environment,” Norton said. He also called the report’s methodology flawed because the high cobalt levels at Allen are “deep within the interior” of the site and groundwater flows away from neighbors. “Separate private well testing by state regulators in North Carolina did not observe elevated levels of cobalt or any other ash impacts in neighbors’ well water near the Allen plant, and regular surface water sampling shows Lake Wylie continues to remain safe from coal ash impacts,” he said. Attempts to reach GenOn, which operates two facilities, one in Maryland and one in Pennsylvania, that were listed among the 10 most contaminated in the country, for comment were unsuccessful. ‘Common tricks’ Local activists said coal ash pollution has plagued their communities for years. “This report chronicles the bad faith of big coal in America that has created public and environmental health problems that will take generations to clean up in some cases,” said Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, who has fought to force GenOn to clean up pollution from its coal ash landfill in Brandywine, about 24 miles southeast of Washington in Maryland. “All in pursuit of ill-gotten profits while they seek to evade sustainability or accountability. It’s an ugly story and people need to take heed.” Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said during a news conference that coal ash has contaminated drinking water wells in four Indiana communities, including the town of Pines, a Superfund site, and has rendered groundwater unusable at 10 other sites across the state. “Despite knowing for years about the contamination caused by their coal ash, at most of our 17 power plant sites where toxic metals are leaking from ash dumps, the power companies still don’t know the full extent of the contamination or have specific plans to clean up these dumps,” Maloney said. The report also says utilities and ash dump owners are obfuscating actual levels of pollution and exploiting loopholes to avoid cleanup costs. “To save money and avoid liability, coal plant owners ignore critical requirements and employ common tricks to avoid mandatory cleanup requirements,” the report says. For instance, it’s up to coal plant operators to make the initial determination as to which ash pits are subject to the rule, since plants that operated for decades often have multiple ash disposal areas, some that may not have accepted new waste for years. As an example, Duke Energy long considered two old coal ponds at the Gallagher Generating Station in New Albany, Indiana, that had been drained and covered with soil and grass as exempt from the rule even though the ash was “sitting in approximately 20 feet of groundwater,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote to the company in June. There are 200 unlined coal ash impoundments in 30 states that plan to close without removing any ash, even though the waste is within five feet of groundwater, creating the potential for heavy metals to continue leaching out for years, the report says. Plant owners are also rigging groundwater data to cover up the degree of groundwater contamination, the report contends. It cites an example of a Florida facility in which a so-called “background” monitoring well — designed to establish baseline levels of water contaminants before it comes into contact with coal ash — was designated as upgradient of the ash ponds even though it was actually downgradient. The effect is to make it seem as if the ash isn’t contributing significant contamination to the groundwater. “When plant owners illegally install ‘background’ wells that are already contaminated by coal ash, they can avoid cleanup requirements. Cleanups are triggered, according to the rule, when downgradient wells (wells placed to detect water passing the boundary of a landfill or pond) show a statistically significant increase in coal ash contaminants when compared to wells reflecting the original condition of the groundwater,” the report says. Even when the upgradient wells are properly designated, sometimes coal ash unit owners don’t compare those background wells with the monitoring wells designed to identify contamination. “Instead of comparing downgradient wells to upgradient wells, they analyze the data for each well in isolation,” the report says. “This does not work at most coal plants because the groundwater is already contaminated.” More than 100 coal ash dumps regulated by the rule use that technique, called “intrawell analysis.” And when they embark on cleanup efforts, ash dump operators fail to restore groundwater quality, drag their feet by failing to choose a solution or opt for “monitored natural attenuation” to address contamination, even though that essentially means groundwater monitoring without a clean up plan, the report says. The groups say state and federal regulators should push coal plant owners to remove ash from pits and place it in sealed landfills away from surface and groundwater, which can be pumped up and treated. The report calls for more monitoring wells, more testing of nearby surface water and private drinking water wells, correct analysis of groundwater data and prompt clean-up action, among other provisions. It also calls on the EPA to step up enforcement and revise the rule itself so that it no longer exempts older coal ash units. “This is not a problem that can’t be solved,” Evans said. “The problem is the intransigence of the industry in not being willing to solve the problem.“ Read on NC Policy Watch


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  • Chapel Hill Weighs Redeveloping a Site That Sits Atop a Coal Ash Pit Despite Warnings

    By: Chad Knuth, Indy Week October 26, 2022 Managing coal ash in North Carolina has long been a sordid issue. Last month in response to the Town of Chapel Hill’s proposal to build on top of an existing 60,000-ton coal ash deposit without removing the coal ash, a group of residents known as Safe Housing for Chapel Hill hosted three of the nation’s top coal ash scientists in a public forum in an effort to educate citizens on the dangers attributed to coal ash. “Coal ash is the new asbestos,” said Edward Marshall, a professor in Duke’s school of engineering who spearheaded the forum. The property at the center of the debate runs along the Bolin Creek Parkway at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, one mile north of the heavily trafficked Franklin Street. It has been the sole home to the Chapel Hill Police Department since the 1980s, but it is also the site of a coal ash infill that dates from the 1960s and ’70s. When plans for reconstruction of the current police station were initially submitted in 2013, the Town of Chapel Hill discovered the buried coal ash deposit at the site, and officials have since been looking to remediate the property. Current plans that the town has released outline the construction of a roughly 80,000-square-foot new municipal services center, which is set to include a reconstructed police station, alongside the addition of private development and a total of 225 to 275 multifamily residential rental units, all of which would be built directly over the existing 60,000-ton coal ash deposit. “The town [of Chapel Hill] has failed to make a compelling, science-based case for building on top of 60,000 tons of coal ash,” Marshall said at the meeting. “All we want the town to do is remove the coal ash before building anything. It is the town council and mayor’s moral and public health responsibility to keep our citizens safe—the proposed plan does not do that.” Chapel Hill mayor Pam Hemminger, however, says the town understands the dangers attributed to coal ash and further assures that current plans to not remove the coal ash have been well researched. ”We can all agree that there are concerns surrounding the coal ash,” she says. “We’ve explored digging [the coal ash] out, but that was going to cause more environmental concerns in many ways, causing fly ash and just all of the hazards associated in digging it up and carting it out with trucks. It would ultimately endanger the community more [to remove it].” Hemminger has since stated that, due to costs, plans for any residential units to be built on the site have been pushed into later project phases, while plans for the municipal center and reconstructed police station remain under way. For Marshall and others attending the forum, the removal of residential units from development plans is not nearly enough. They asked why the town seemed to be dodging the glaring issue at hand. Hemminger declined to attend last month’s forum, as did all but one member of the town council, Adam Searing. Searing was the only town council member to vote against the proposed redevelopment project. “It’s wonderful that the community is asking the questions they are,” says Hemminger, “but we’ve employed top-notch scientists and we’ve met with the [NC Department of Environmental Quality], and this group of citizens [who attended the forum] had also met with the DEQ, and they were told the same thing we were: that capping it and controlling it where it was is the best way forward.” Officials from NC DEQ also declined to attend last month’s forum. “This has been going on for a long time now,” Hemminger continues. “[The town has] been very forthcoming and up-front about everything. I learned about this when I came in as mayor seven years ago, and we’ve been posting our progress, and continually testing, and doing constant monitoring of the groundwater and the creek. We’re happy to say the creek has shown no sign of ever having coal ash in it.” Earlier last month, the town issued a memo discussing the proposed project’s current status. “Over the summer, we have continued to work with the NC DEQ through the EPA’s Brownfields Program,” the memo states. “We have, also, continued to work with Hart & Hickman, our environmental consultants, who are in the process of conducting on-going monitoring and additional testing of on the site at NC DEQ’s request as a standard procedure for the Brownfields Program.” The EPA’s Brownfields Program provides grants and technical assistance to communities, states, tribes, and others to assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse contaminated properties. It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 Brownfields properties in the United States. According to NC DEQ, as documented during a public meeting Q&A back in May, the Brownfields Program “is still reviewing assessment data collected at this site and some additional assessment is anticipated to occur …. The primary identified contaminants at the Chapel Hill Police Property are elevated metals from the coal ash.” The presence of the elevated metals was a focal point at last month’s forum. The metals include antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, radium, radon, thallium, thorium, and uranium, all of which are known to cause serious health effects due to exposure. Scientists at the forum took turns exchanging collected research on the effects of coal ash exposure with grave concern. Avner Vengosh, a professor of environmental quality at Duke, reported that the composition of soil samples taken at 828 MLK Jr. Boulevard revealed a total of 19 toxic metals, including levels of arsenic, lead, and radium that were three to four times what the EPA allows. Health risks from exposure to metals found in coal ash include damage to the liver, kidneys, and heart, as well as nervous system damage and even lung, prostate, and urinary tract cancers, to name only a few. “Overall, studies show higher all-cause mortality; rates of premature deaths and infant mortality; higher risk of cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases; lung cancer; and higher prevalence of low birth weight in newborns reported in association with air pollutants related to coal-burning power plants,” wrote Julia Kravchenko, an associate professor of surgery at Duke School of Medicine, in a research paper published in 2018. Kravchenko’s research shows that, unfortunately, studies with direct measurements of exposure and health status in the communities adjacent to landfills or coal ash impoundments in the United States are currently not available. In addition, no studies with direct measurements of individual or group/community exposures that can provide a scientific rationale for policy changes in the United States are currently available. Vengosh and Kravchenko both attended the forum, along with Susan Wind, a former resident of Mooresville, who joined in an effort to share her daughter’s story. Wind’s daughter, Taylor, who now suffers from thyroid cancer, was one of at least 25 children and teens in the Lake Norman area who have been suspected to have contracted cancers related to the improper disposal of coal ash in their community. The state’s Central Cancer Registry statistics showed that for the past 26 years Iredell County has reported higher incidences of thyroid cancer than the state average, in some cases three times greater. In May 2018, state and county health officials designated two zip codes near Lake Norman as suspected cancer clusters, one of them being 28117, where the Wind family had resided. Lake Norman High School, where Wind’s daughter was in attendance at the time of her diagnosis, was discovered to have been built alongside a 42,000-ton coal ash deposit, a site not dissimilar to that at 828 MLK Jr. Boulevard. According to Wind, a number of the children and teens in the Lake Norman area who had contracted cancers similar to her daughter’s have since passed away from complications. Pamela Schultz, former chair of the Chapel Hill Stormwater Advisory Board, spoke after Wind. “Our bodies are not designed to be exposed to these chemicals, but the conversation is that there are no short-term effects due to exposure to coal ash,” she said. “We need more medical data. The risks are greater than what we have believed.” As the town starts its long journey on the road of remediation, Hemminger ensures that the Town of Chapel Hill has been committed to redeveloping the site safely from the start. “We’re all learning how to live with it,” Hemminger says. “We’re learning as much as we possibly can.” Read the article at Indy Week


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  • Viewpoints: We’re Still Waiting on Chapel Hill Coal Ash Answers

    By: Amanda Strawderman, Op-Ed for Chapelboro.com September 9, 2022 May 16, 2022. That was the date the Town of Chapel Hill and NC Dept of Environmental Quality held a virtual meeting to inform the public of the process of the urgent yet controversial redevelopment of the town’s property at 828 MLK Blvd. Urgent, first and foremost, because the site contains an estimated 60,000 cubic yards of coal ash made up of carcinogenic compounds and heavy metals, exposure to which is known to be harmful to human health. And even after coal ash was discovered and the Town made initial cleanup efforts, sections of this site have continued to be exposed to rain and wind, and is of concern to the community. Controversial, because the Town has proposed to build residential housing and municipal buildings atop the site without first removing all of the coal ash. Given the risks for more exposure during and after the completion of this project, people naturally have questions about how they will be protected. It’s important to note that this was not the first meeting on the topic. Members of the public have been showing up for Chapel Hill Town Council meetings and reaching out with emails and phone calls for months. After being chided by some council members for speaking out without being fully informed, folks wanted to do just that, to become better informed and give the Town the opportunity to demonstrate that they have public health and safety considerations at the forefront of this project. And so on May 16, despite allotting only 30 minutes for questions, 73 members of the public – neighbors, local and statewide coalitions of coal ash-impacted community members, health experts, clean air and water advocates – attended the meeting to voice their concerns and ask for answers. Some questions were addressed during the meeting while others would require research and consultation, but all were promised to be given written responses that would soon be posted on the Town of Chapel Hill’s website. Seventy days. That’s how long we waited for the Town and DEQ to post those responses (Note that members of the public are expected to provide comments within 30 days after notice of a draft permit for polluting facilities). And even when these replies were posted, less than half the questions were answered and many were essentially evaded, overgeneralized, or pushed to future decisions in later stages of the project. To illustrate, community members have long been asking about the potential removal methods for the coal ash at the site, and when DEQ responded, they simply stated “decisions about removal should be directed to the Town of Chapel Hill representatives.” Yet the Town had insisted they were bringing in DEQ for their expertise. When asked if DEQ’s brownfield program had previous experience with ‘mitigated coal ash on proposed housing sites’ they discussed projects at other types of sites with elevated metals, avoiding the true answer that the program has NEVER put a residential development on top of a former coal ash site. Discourse that has the public running in circles doesn’t exactly build confidence that any number of potentially negative consequences from this project have been considered. Far from trying to obstruct progress, we just want to understand the plan. Aside from the redevelopment proposal that has been put forth, what other types of clean-up and remediation options has the Town even considered or been given estimates? How would potential exposure and health risks differ between users and activities at the redeveloped site (residents/employees or long-term vs visitors or short-term)? Have they consulted the NC Department of Health and Human Services or other health researchers about potential public health impacts from these proposals? How will they ensure workers and community members will be protected during construction? How will the waste be handled, transported, and stored so that coal ash dust doesn’t escape into the air we breathe or the water we drink? How long will they monitor the local environment after the project is completed? And whichever plan they choose, how will they ensure negative impacts are not disproportionately borne by low-income or BIPOC community members? These are just some of the valid concerns that haven’t been addressed. Considering that this is only one of who knows how many undiscovered coal ash sites across the state, what is decided now doesn’t only affect the residents of Chapel Hill, the next one could be in any one of our neighborhoods. It is in everyone’s best interest to see that justice is done for our fellow Carolinians in this matter. Decide for yourself and follow the issue on the Chapel Hill website or Futureof828.org. Watch the recording of the meeting, read their responses, and participate in the upcoming meetings to ask your own questions. This project is still at the early stages, but if we don’t make sure the Town is thinking things through, then decisions will be made and they might just claim it’s too late, that too much effort has already gone into this plan, too much money has been invested, or that we should have said something sooner. It’s now September and the next Chapel Hill Town Council meeting is on the 14th. To the council and DEQ, we HAVE spoken, we’re still here, and we’re waiting for answers. Read the article on Chapelboro.com


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  • 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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