In a sudden but not wholly unexpected turn, Duke Energy announced this afternoon that it will release confidential maps that show areas that could be flooded if a coal ash basin or dam failed. The documents, including other redacted information in the Emergency Action Plans, will be rolled out over the next several weeks.
As Policy Watch reported on Wednesday and Thursday,  Duke had kept the maps secret, ostensibly for national security and critical infrastructure reasons. Local emergency managers could get the maps from the utility but had to sign a confidentially agreement to do so, and thus couldn’t provide them to the public.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing eight clients, had indicated it would sue the utility if the maps were not disclosed.
As a result of media and legal scrutiny, Duke did leave open the possibility it would change its stance. And today, the utility did. Here is the full text of the press release:
The following is an important update from George Hamrick, senior vice president of coal combustion products at Duke Energy, on Sept. 22, 2017:“Duke Energy has determined that it is appropriate to post additional information related to emergency action plans (EAPs) for coal ash facilities, specifically inundation maps and emergency responder contact information. These maps help depict the area that could be impacted in the unlikely event water and material were released from an ash basin.The company is currently updating documents and will post them to the CCR page of our web in the coming weeks. In the meantime, any questions about the emergency action plans may be emailed to email@example.com .Public safety and safe operations are our highest priorities. Ash basins continue to operate safely and are highly regulated. Removing water and permanently closing basins, work that is already planned or underway, adds an additional margin of safety. Engineers conduct weekly inspections, and state regulators oversee that process and can conduct their own inspections. We continue to perform any necessary maintenance until basins are safely closed.It’s also important to note that our company has a long history of collaboration with emergency response organizations around our facilities. We provide full versions of these plans to local emergency agencies and also meet annually with them to review our plans so they can be ready to respond if ever needed.When the company updated the EAPs in 2014, prior to the federal CCR rule, we relied on the historical interpretation of state law designed to safeguard information about critical infrastructure. After revisiting the issue and reviewing how other utilities have managed the expectations of the CCR rule, we agree it is appropriate to post additional information and make it available to the public.”
Frank Holleman, senior attorney with SELC, also issued a response, urging the utility to make the maps public now:
“It is a shame that citizens have to threaten to sue Duke Energy to get it to obey the law. The public should have had this emergency information for months … There is no reason that it cannot be made public immediately. Communities across North Carolina should look closely at these flood maps once Duke Energy reluctantly makes them public to see what threats Duke Energy has imposed on the families of North Carolina.”