State environmental regulators stayed out and the utility stepped up, coming up with a plan to remove the ash from lagoons and either re-use it if possible or move it to lined storage elsewhere.

A similar push was afoot in North Carolina as groups investigated contamination at Duke Energy plants across the state, asked the state’s Environmental Management Commission for a ruling on how groundwater contaminations rules applied to coal ash sites here, and prepared for lawsuits against the company for contamination at its Asheville and Riverbend plants.

But unlike what happened in South Carolina, the state here stepped in and the utility pushed back. Now, nearly two years later, multiple lawsuits involving 14 plants are pending, a grand jury investigation is underway and the state is facing a major environmental management crisis for which no one has a plan.

Plagued by infighting and litigation delay tactics, North Carolina’s coal ash crisis has grown into more than just an environmental disaster. It’s now a political and legal nightmare, the bill for which the state and its residents will be paying for many years to come.