DEQ Puts Cliffside Area Residents at Risk of Coal Ash Contamination

DEQ Puts Cliffside Area Residents at Risk of Coal Ash Contamination


DEQ Puts Cliffside Area Residents at Risk of Coal Ash Contamination


photo: courtesy of Duke Energy

The Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) risk classification for North Carolina’s coal ash pits puts the health of residents who live downstream from the Cliffside coal ash impoundments, including those who live in Shelby and Gaffney, SC, at risk from contaminated drinking water.

The DEQ issued its Coal Combustion Residual Impoundment Risk Classifications report on the afternoon of Friday, January 29. The DEQ has classified two of the Cliffside coal ash pits as low and one as “low/intermediate” priority despite testing that shows high levels of arsenic, chromium, cobalt, hexavalent chromium, thallium and vanadium contaminating groundwater and flowing into the Broad River. A classification of high or even intermediate priority would require Duke Energy excavate the sites, while a low rating means coal ash will be left on the banks of the Broad river to pollute a public drinking water source in perpetuity.

David Caldwell, coordinator of the Broad River Alliance — a Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate, states:

“We know there are toxic chemicals in these ash ponds, and we know that they’re spilling into the Broad River and seeping into our drinking water. On every criteria set out by legislature in the Coal Ash Management Act, these three sites deserve a failing grade. If we don’t push the DEQ, all they’ll require for these pits it that they be covered and left in place to continue polluting our water in perpetuity. We are asking DEQ to show us the same respect given to 13 other communities across NC, and have the ash ponds permanently removed.”

DEQ is required to rate the ponds high, intermediate or low based on three criteria: the impact to surface water, the impact to groundwater and dam safety. According to the DEQ’s own Corrective Action Plan for the Cliffside Steam Station Ash Basin (November 16, 2015) all three of the Cliffside sites deserve a failing grade.

  • Pollution of Groundwater:
    All three Cliffside coal ash ponds pollute the groundwater with high levels of toxic metals, including arsenic at over 468 times the state’s safety standard, vanadium at 690 times the standard, hexavalent chromium at 185 times the standard and cobalt at 119 times the standard. The polluted groundwater from all three pits flows into the Broad River and Suck Creek, which are drinking water sources for Shelby NC, Gaffney SC and other downstream municipalities.
  • Pollution of Surface Water:
    All three coal ash ponds pollute the Broad River and Suck Creek with 28 illegal discharges that dump millions of gallons of toxic heavy metals each day, including chromium at 51 times the limit, arsenic at 37 times the state’s safety, and cobalt at 19 times the state’s safety standard.
  • Deficiency of Dam Infrastructure:
    DEQ has rated the dams as low priority despite the fact that the three Cliffside coal ash ponds received 5 notices of deficiency for dam structural integrity in 2014. DEQ has justified its ratings based on the outcome of future renovations to the dams’ structure that have yet to be completed. The Coal Ash Management Act was designed to rate the dams on their current risk and currently all the dams have received recent notice of deficiencies for many of the same problems that caused the Dan River spill.

The heavy metals and toxic chemicals seeping from the Cliffside coal ash pits are present at levels that are harmful to humans and wildlife. Arsenic poisoning can lead to heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases and diabetes. Cobalt has been linked to cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, blood poisoning, liver injury and thyroid problems. Chromium is a carcinogen and hexavalent chromium was the subject of the movie Erin Brockovich, which was based on the true story of groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California by Pacific Gas Electric Company.

MountainTrue, a conservation organizations that is active on issues affecting the Broad River watershed, encourages residents to attend one of two DEQ public hearings on the Cliffside plants scheduled for March 14.

  • Cleveland County Hearing on Cliffside Coal Ash Classification
    Monday March 14 at 6:00 PM
    114 E. College Ave, Shelby, NC 28152
  • Rutherford County Hearing on Cliffside Coal Ash Classification
    Monday March 14 at 6:00 PM
    Isothermal Community College Auditorium, 286 ICC Loop Rd, Spindale, NC 28160

For more information on the public hearings and DEQ coal ash classifications, visit http://mountaintrue.org.

About MountainTrue
MountainTrue fosters and empowers communities throughout the region and engages in policy and project advocacy, outreach and education, and on the ground projects. To achieve our goals, MountainTrue focuses on a core set of issues across 23 counties of Western North Carolina: sensible land use, restoring public forests, protecting water quality and promoting clean energy – all of which have a high impact on the environmental health and long-term prosperity of our residents. MountainTrue is the home of the Watauga Riverkeeper, the primary watchdog and spokesperson for the Elk and Watauga Rivers; the French Broad Riverkeeper, the primary protector and defender of the French Broad River watershed; and Broad River Alliance, a Waterkeeper Affiliate working to promote fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters in the Broad River Basin. For more information: mountaintrue.org

Media Contacts:

Karim Olaechea
Communications Director, MountainTrue
E: karim@mountiantrue.org; C: 415.535.9004

David Caldwell
Coordinator, Broad River Alliance – A Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate
E: broadriveralliance@gmail.com C: 704.300.5069


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Putting the modern in Duke Energy’s “modernization” plan

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy featured the following guest blog from Joan Walker, MountainTrue’s Campaign Director/Interim Southern Region Director detailing the history and current opportunities for public engagement on Duke Energy’s Western Carolina’s “Modernization” Project.

On January 26, in Asheville, our communities will have their only chance to speak on Duke Energy’s plans for Western North Carolina at a public hearing of the North Carolina Utilities Commission. This is the final chapter in a long campaign that has brought our communities together in the fight for a smarter, cleaner energy future.

Let’s rewind to May of 2015, when Duke Energy announced they would retire their Asheville coal-fired power plant. Those of us who have been working for years to secure that retirement experienced a confusing mix of excitement and disappointment. While our region would finally be free from our dependence on coal, Duke was planning a massive new natural gas-powered infrastructure project.

Read more

Hendersonville Green Drinks: The Path Toward a Cleaner, Safer and More Affordable Energy Future


Hendersonville Green Drinks: The Path Toward a Cleaner, Safer and More Affordable Energy Future

MountainTrue Campaigns Director Joan Walker is the featured presenter of the next Hendersonville Green Drinks on Thursday, January 14 at Black Bear Coffee in downtown Hendersonville.

JoanHeadshotJuly2012_2New time and place!
What: Hendersonville Green Drinks
Where: Black Bear Coffee, 318 N. Main St., Hendersonville
When: January 14, 2016. Come at 5:30 pm for networking; discussion starts at 6:00 pm.

Attendees will learn about the current state of Duke Energy’s Western Carolinas Modernization project, and ongoing efforts by MountainTrue and the Carolina Land Coalition to ensure that Duke prioritizes energy efficiency and renewable infrastructure and reduces its reliance on fossil fuels. Walker will also discuss ways that area residents and businesses can work together to reduce demand for electricity and avoid a third gas-fired unit proposed by Duke.

Come to Green Drinks to learn more about current environmental issues, have relevant discussions, and meet up with like-minded people. Everyone is welcome. You don’t have to drink at Green Drinks, just come and listen. Black Bear Coffee offers beer, wine, coffee drinks and sodas. A limited food menu will be available. For more information about Hendersonville’s Green Drinks, contact Joan Walker, Campaigns Director for MountainTrue at 828.258.8737 x 205, or joan@mountaintrue.org.

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Environmental Groups File to Intervene on Duke Energy’s Proposed New Gas Plant


Environmental Groups File to Intervene on Duke Energy’s Proposed New Gas Plant

Contact:
Kelly Martin, Sierra Club, (828-423-7845)
Julie Mayfield, MountainTrue (828-271-4544)
DJ Gerken, SELC (828-337-2238)

Asheville, N.C. — MountainTrue and the Sierra Club, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), today filed a petition to intervene in proceeding before the North Carolina Utilities Commission regarding Duke Energy’s proposed new gas-fired power plant that the company has branded its “Western Carolinas Modernization Project.”

Download the petition (pdf)

Duke Energy Progress, whose service territory includes Asheville and other parts of Western North Carolina, submitted to the Utilities Commission on December 16 a notification of intent to file an application for a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” for the new gas units that, if approved, would replace a coal-fired plant at Lake Julian, south of Asheville that is slated for retirement in 2020.

In its letter to the Commission, Duke Energy Progress stated its intent to seek approval of two new natural gas-fired 280 MW units, as well as a third 192 MW unit designed to meet additional demand during peak times. Duke has stated that the ‘peaking” unit may not need to be built if the company can meet demand through energy efficiency programs and greater use of renewable technologies. Duke is currently in discussions with the City of Asheville and Buncombe County, MountainTrue and the Sierra Club to develop those alternatives.

MountainTrue and the Sierra Club, represented by SELC, are requesting to intervene in the proceeding to ensure that the proposed gas plant is truly needed to provide power to Duke’s customers in Western NC, as required under state law, and that the company maximizes its use of cleaner, cost-effective alternatives such as energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Kelly Martin, senior campaign representative for the Beyond Coal campaign in North Carolina, said:

“Duke’s stated intent, albeit qualified, to build a 192 MW peaking gas unit looks like a bet against the success of the recently established Community Clean Energy Policy Framework—a community partnership to achieve demand reductions through energy efficiency measures. That framework, as Duke has publicly stated, ‘involves substantive conversations with the city and other stakeholders about ways to increase renewable energy, energy efficiency and evolving technologies here locally.’

“We therefore encourage Duke to postpone seeking approval for a gas peaker unit in Asheville, and urge the company to include a specific financial commitment to measurable energy efficiency goals as part of the Modernization Project Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application.

“Taking these two steps will go a long way toward retaining and building confidence in the community partnership on reducing energy use.”

Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue, said:

“The inclusion of the 192 MW peaking plant in this filing is unfortunate. Duke has told the public that they are looking for cleaner alternatives, then they turn around and ask the public utilities commission for permission to build the additional unit seven years before they say it might be necessary.

“We believe in the commitment of the local Duke officials to this process, but it seems that one hand may not know what the other is doing. We want Duke to be all in on seeking alternatives to the third unit instead of building in a back door, and we are asking them to send a clear message that they are fully committed to finding cleaner, sustainable alternatives by removing the peaking unit from their filing to the utilities commission.”

D.J. Gerken, Managing Attorney, Asheville Office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said:

“In 2015 the General Assembly gave Duke a fast track for review of this proposal – but not a free pass to overbuild its new fossil fuel plant and stick its customers with the bill.  Duke needs to make a real commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency in the mountains and put up data to prove that it needs this expansion.

“I am especially skeptical of Duke’s request for up-front approval to build a 190 MW peaking unit it would not need until 2023, if ever, when the Company said just two months ago it was working to avoid the third unit with new investments in energy efficiency.”

The application for approval could be filed as soon as January 15, 2016. A public hearing is set for 7:00 p.m. on January 26 at the Buncombe County Courthouse, and a decision by the Utilities Commission must be made within 45 days from the of the filing, or as soon as February 29, 2016.

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Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Carolina Land Coalition Carries On!

Carolina Land Coalition Carries On!

Last week a group of Carolina Land Coalition leaders met and unanimously agreed that the Carolina Land Coalition will continue to protect our land from Duke Energy’s long-term plans. We dodged a bullet when the transmission lines and substations were cancelled, but WNC will stay in the crosshairs as long as our region’s largest utility continues to prioritize fossil fuels to meet our growing demand.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are realistic, affordable and attainable solutions. These are technologies that create more jobs, help lower utility bills and will keep our air, water and land clean and safe from more power plants and transmission lines in the future. MountainTrue and Carolina Land Coalition are committed to promoting those common sense solutions in partnership with local communities, organizations, governments and, yes, Duke Energy. Compared to the sprint we did together this summer fighting the “modernization” plan, this will be a marathon. We hope you’ll stay with us as we plan and implement this next phase of work!  If you’re interested in playing an active leadership role in the Coalition moving forward please email Joan Walker, MountainTrue’s Campaign Coordinator at joan@mountaintrue.org

In the near term, we’re still waiting to see what Duke Energy does next in regards to improvements to existing lines and the new gas plant. When the plan for the new plant is released after the new year, we’ll analyze it and support folks in making public comments to get the very best plan possible. The process for line upgrades is less clear at this point, but we’re doing our best to find out what kind of information Duke is required to share with the public and how the public can give their input.

Stay tuned to the website at www.CarolinaLandCoalition.org for updates, a new vision statement and more. I hope you’ll remain and get even more involved as we move toward a truly modern energy future for our beautiful mountains and communities!

Show your support! Join Carolina Land Coalition and receive updates and action opportunities!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Conservation and Recreation Coalition Announces Recommendations for Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests

Conservation and Recreation Coalition Announces Recommendations for Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests

(SYLVA, NC)—A coalition of conservation and recreation organizations recommends more trails and better public access as well as backcountry and wild areas for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests, according to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) developed by the coalition. The coalition is submitting the MOU to the U.S. Forest Service as part of the ongoing forest plan revision process for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests.

The coalition includes Access Fund, American Alpine Club, American Whitewater, Back Country Horsemen of America, Back Country Horsemen of Blue Ridge, Back Country Horsemen of North Carolina, Back Country Horsemen of Pisgah, Back Country Horsemen of Western North Carolina, Black Dome Mountain Sports, Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, Carolina Adventure Guides, Carolina Climbers Coalition, Franklin Bird Club, Friends of Big Ivy, Ground Up Publishing, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Highlands Plateau Audubon Society, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition, International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), MountainTrue, Nantahala Area Southern Off-Road Biking Association (SORBA), Nantahala Hiking Club, North Carolina Horse Council, Northwest North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance, Outdoor 76, Outdoor Alliance, Pisgah Area SORBA, Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures, Southern Appalachian Plant Society, Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS), Stay and Play in the Smokies, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited – Unaka Chapter, and Wild South.

The idea driving the coalition is simple: Western North Carolina’s national forests are the region’s greatest public asset, and should be protected for their inherent beauty, biodiversity, and their many values. Recognizing that Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest is in the top three most visited national forests in the United States, the proposal acknowledges the economic importance of these forests for recreation and tourism, and recommends management of these assets in a responsible manner that is both environmentally and economically sound. The management and designations proposed by the coalition extend stronger protections to more than 365,000 of the national forest’s nearly 1.1 million acres including two new National Recreation Areas and more than 109,000 acres of recommended wilderness.

Key recommendations within the proposal:

  • Two new National Recreation Areas for Western North Carolina: a 115,573-acre Pisgah National Recreation Area and a 57,400-acre Grandfather National Recreation Area that will protect these areas from resource extraction and ensure that their unique natural beauty and ecological diversity are maintained for future generations, while recreation use such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, kayaking, and climbing is planned and managed for as a long-term priority. National Recreation Areas will formalize recreation access in key points of our forests, and would allow for the establishment of sustainable infrastructure to prevent damage to the areas while preserving recreational opportunities.
  • Wilderness protection for 109,961 acres in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests.  Hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and hiking are among the many activities that would be welcomed in these areas. While the Forest Service can recommend wilderness, it would have to be approved by Congressional legislation and signed into law by the president.

Those who support the recommendations put forth in the MOU can help by providing public comments to the Forest Service that both endorses a plan that provides more public access and recreation, and protects more of our backcountry and wild places.

Comments can be submitted via email at NCPlanRevision@fs.fed.us or via mail at United States Forest Service Supervisor’s Office, 160 Zillicoa St, Suite A, Asheville, NC 28801.

For more information, contact:

Brent Martin, The Wilderness Society – Southern Appalachian Regional Director
(828) 587-9453 • brent_martin@tws.org

Josh Kelly, MountainTrue – Public Lands Field Biologist
828.258.8737 x 210 • josh@mountaintrue.org


Read Full Text of the MOU

Download PDF

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.