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Who Will Pay to Clean Up Duke Energy's Coal Ash Pits?

North Carolina recently ordered the company to excavate the ash at Cliffside and five other power plants in the state and move it into lined landfills.

This aerial photo shows a 2016 spill of coal ash and other pollutants flowing into North Carolina's Broad River from Duke Energy's Cliffside coal-fired power plant

This aerial photo shows a 2016 spill of coal ash and other pollutants flowing into North Carolina's Broad River from Duke Energy's Cliffside coal-fired power plant after heavy rain overwhelmed stormwater retention structures. North Carolina recently ordered the company to excavate the ash at Cliffside and five other power plants in the state and move it into lined landfills. Duke Energy is fighting the order; if it loses, it wants customers and not shareholders to pay for the cleanup. (Photo by the Catawba Riverkeeper via the Waterkeeper Alliance’s Flickr account.)

Date on which the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), citing science, ordered Duke Energy to fully excavate its remaining coal ash pits and move the toxic waste into lined landfills: 4/1/2019

Number of remaining coal ash pits Duke Energy must excavate under the order: 6

Number of its other North Carolina coal ash pits, many of them located along rivers or lakes, where Duke Energy has already begun or completed excavation: 22

Date on which neighbors of Duke Energy's Belews Creek plant — who have raised concerns about unusual patterns of brain cancers and other illnesses they fear may be connected to coal ash pollution — threw an "Excavation Celebration" to rejoice in the cleanup order: 4/7/2019

In groundwater near the Belews Creek plant's coal ash pits, percent by which the level of manganese — an element that at excessive levels can cause brain damage — exceeds state groundwater standards: 7,100

Number of criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act Duke Energy pleaded guilty to over its mismanagement of coal ash following the massive 2014 spill into the Dan River: 9

Amount Duke Energy has claimed the excavation will cost, with the company hoping to pass that on to customers instead of shareholders, a matter the N.C. Utilities Commission will decide: about $10 billion

Last year, amount the commission decided Duke Energy's customers should pay to clean up other coal ash pits, with Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein vowing to appeal the decision: $546 million

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Date on which a group of Democratic lawmakers in the Republican-controlled N.C. House introduced a bill that would block Duke Energy from passing coal ash cleanup costs on to its customers, a measure one leading Republican said has no chance of passing: 4/2/2019

Besides North Carolina, number of other Southern states that, under pressure from environmental advocates, have ordered utilities to fully excavate coal ash pits and move the waste to safer storage: 2*

Date by which Duke Energy must submit final closure plans for NCDEQ approval, including where the coal ash will go and approximately how long the excavation process will take: 8/1/2019

Date by which NCDEQ will conduct hearings in affected communities to discuss the company's plans before making a final decision: 10/1/2019

Date on which Duke Energy announced it would file an administrative appeal challenging North Carolina's excavation order: 4/11/2019

* South Carolina and Virginia.

(Click on figure to go to source.)

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Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis is the Director and regular contributor to the Institute for Southern Study's online magazine, Facing South, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Sue is the author or co-author of five Institute reports, including Faith in the Gulf (Aug/Sept 2008), Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (January 2008) and Blueprint for Gulf Renewal (Aug/Sept 2007). Sue holds a Masters in Journalism from New York University.

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