Duke Energy Corp. said the total tab for cleaning up its North Carolina coal-ash dumps may reach $10 billion amid a call for national rules to regulate the disposal of the fossil-fuel byproduct…
The largest U.S. utility owner told a North Carolina legislative commission that if it were required to excavate and relocate all its ash in the state and convert to an all-dry handling system, costs would reach $7 billion to $10 billion and take as long as three decades.
The commission met yesterday to discuss the company’s response to a Feb. 2 spill of about 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Environmental groups have called on Duke to remove all of its coal-ash dumps after the spill, which has triggered investigations and subpoenas.
Duke should move all its coal ash into lined, dry pits and stop disposing of it in ponds, said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Unlined ponds invariably contaminate ground water, and their dams can fail, he said.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission will decide who pays for the cleanup, Holleman said. “Our position is that law-abiding citizens should not pay,” he said. Duke shareholders are liable for the cost because its ash ponds violate pollution laws, Holleman said.
There is no federal regulation of coal ash. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a January court settlement, agreed to “final action” on proposed coal ash regulations by Dec. 19.
The state utilities commission will determine who pays to clean up ash unless lawmakers decide to change some laws, Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke, said in a telephone interview. The company has not submitted a proposal to regulators regarding the expenses.
A federal grand jury is probing the state’s oversight of the company’s 33 coal-ash ponds in North Carolina. State officials’ “primary desire” is removal of coal ash ponds from the banks of rivers and streams, Pat McCrory, the state’s Republican governor, said in a Feb. 25 letter to Duke Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good.
It’s worth reminding folks that North Carolina’s Republican governor worked for Duke Energy for thirty years or so. Most folks feel that’s why the energy giant hasn’t gotten more than a slap on the wrist until they managed to promote a world-class disaster.
Keep an eye out for the final solution decided by the state utilities commission. Liable to be small enough to pass downstream unnoticed by ordinary mortals.