If it looks and acts like a landfill, is it a landfill?
Superior Court Judge Carl Fox will weigh that question on Monday. Three environmental groups are asking Fox to review a legal decision that allows coal ash to be dumped in old slate and clay mines in rural Lee and Chatham counties.
At issue is whether the extensive excavation required to dispose of the ash in essence transforms the mines into landfills. Coal ash landfills are subject to stronger environmental regulations than reclaimed mines holding the same material.
Nearly 8 million tons of coal ash are expected to be dumped in the Colon mine , five miles north of Sanford in Lee County. The Brickhaven mine is located four and a half miles southeast of Moncure, in Chatham County. It will receive roughly 12 million tons of coal ash.
The organizations petitioning the court are Environmentalee, Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. The respondent is the NC Department of Environmental Quality and two of its divisions, Waste Management and Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources. Green Meadow, the company disposing the coal ash into the mines, is also named in the filing. (The document is available for download: petition-for-judicial-review-1 .)
The Coal Ash Management Act allows the material to be used for mine reclamation. In June 2015, NC DEQ issued permits to Green Meadow to remove, transport and dump coal ash from Duke Energy’s Sutton, H.F. Lee, Weatherspoon and Riverbend power plants into the two mines.
In May 2016, the environmental groups argued before Administrative Law Judge Melissa Lassiter that parts of the land had never been mined. By permitting Green Meadow to dig up new locations, the groups alleged, NC DEQ was allowing the company to create small landfills within the mine. Those mini-landfills, though, wouldn’t have to comply with stricter standards.
However, Lassiter upheld DEQ’s permits, concluding that the facilities were mines, not landfills.
Local residents and county officials are concerned that chemicals from the coal ash could leak into groundwater and drinking water wells. The mines would also lower property values.
The hearing begins at 10 a.m. at the Chatham Justice Center, 40 E. Chatham St., in Pittsboro.