Commentary

More you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up coal ash news

In case you missed it on Friday, Michael Biesecker at AP had another troubling story on Duke Energy’s seemingly metastasizing coal ash mess. This is the lead:

Federal environmental officials spurred North Carolina regulators to reverse a policy allowing Duke Energy to drain massive amounts of polluted wastewater from its coal ash dumps directly into the state’s rivers and lakes, according to documents.

The Southern Environmental Law Center released documents Friday showing that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources quietly gave Duke approval on Aug. 28 to start emptying liquids from all of its 33 coal ash dumps across the state through existing drain pipes at the facilities.

Good grief! What’s next? Direct pipelines into the backyards of all of Duke’s residential customers? Meanwhile, this is from Dan Besse’s Monday morning update for the League of Conservation Voters:

Around the state…Recalculating?

Users of GPS devices can attest to the high annoyance factor of the perpetual “recalculating…” messages received when they take a wrong turn.

Perhaps that helps explain our aggravation at Duke energy’s latest “whoops” on coal ash. According to Duke, it appears that they ‘miscalculated’ the amount of toxic coal ash they have stored at leaking pits around the state by, oh, about six million tons or so.

The biggest error acknowledged by Duke (thus far) was a 142% miscalculation of the coal ash stored near Sutton Lake in Wilmington – now believed to be about 6.3 million tons instead of 2.6 million tons. The ash is stored in two pits near the Cape Fear River, associated with a closed former Progress Energy coal-fired power plant that Duke acquired as part of its merger with Progress two years ago.

Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) senior attorney Frank Holleman called the changed estimates a “stunning increase” showing that “Duke Energy did not know some of the most basic facts about its own coal ash storage and pollution until we [SELC] and conservation groups began enforcing the law.”

Holleman further commented, “That coal ash has been contaminating groundwater, threatening public water supplies, polluting Sutton Lake, and killing hundreds of thousands of fish.”

Duke now estimates that it has 107.9 million tons of toxic coal ash buried in 32 pits around North Carolina.

Wait, 32 pits? Didn’t that used to be 33? Well, yes – in another recent ‘recalculation’, Duke announced that the four pits (“basins”) at Buck Steam Station near Salisbury really ought to be considered just three, reducing the overall total. See? They’re fixing the problem already.

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