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article imageOp-Ed: New coal ash leaks found at Duke Energy's Buck Power plant

By Karen Graham     Dec 6, 2014 in Environment
Back in mid-November, two environmental groups, Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper, discovered a stream of orange goop oozing out below the normal waterline along a quarter-mile-long stretch of the Yadkin River in North Carolina.
The noxious goop was coming from Duke Energy's Buck Station's unlined coal ash impoundment site located next to the river. Curious to see what Duke Energy was spilling into the river this time, they had the stuff tested. The testing revealed that the coal ash seeps, which, by the way, have not been made public by Duke Energy or the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, contain high levels of pollutants such as arsenic, lead, and selenium.
The Buck Steam Station is located in central North Carolina near Salisbury, in Rowan County. The station is a four-unit coal-fired generating station, and Duke Energy's first large-capacity station to be built in the state. It was named after Duke Energy's co-founder, James Buchanan "Buck" Duke. Units three and four were retired in 2011, and units five and six were retired in 2013.
Buck Steam Station
Buck Steam Station
Waterkeepers Alliance
Unit four was originally built for the navy, but the Pentagon cancelled the order. The three turbines with it were retired in 2012. The Buck plant is now home to the Buck Combined Cycle Plant, a 620-watt natural gas facility that came online in 2011.
With the shutting down of the coal-fired turbines at the Buck Plant, nothing was done about the three coal ash impoundment reservoirs sitting alongside the banks of the Yadkin River. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2009 list of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings includes the Bucks Steam Plant's three coal ash surface impoundments. Impoundments on this list are so hazardous that a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life.
Duke Energy stores huge amounts of toxic coal ash in unlined pits (outlined in red) next to High Roc...
Duke Energy stores huge amounts of toxic coal ash in unlined pits (outlined in red) next to High Rock Lake, an impoundment of the Yadkin River. The two red dots on the left are where samples were taken in November, 2014.
Waterkeepers Alliance
John Suttles, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper in the lawsuit brought against Duke Energy says, "We think this has been a long-term and extensive problem, The volume and level of pollution from Duke’s leaky coal ash lagoons will require more than a band-aid solution to protect the River and nearby communities.”
So what does Duke Energy have to say about the allegations that allege the Buck Plant coal ash impoundments are contaminating the Yadkin River? Of course, they are denying this is happening. They say they have done extensive surveys on all their sites, including the Buck site, and reported their findings to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Duke says the orange color is often caused by harmless, naturally occurring iron bacteria. A spokesperson for Duke Energy said in an email, “Seeps occur at low flows and contain low levels of constituents, so the Yadkin River would continue to be well protected and would not be influenced by these types of flows."
So let's get real folks. Duke Energy has for a number of years been given free hand in the state of North Carolina to legally pollute groundwater and rivers, all in the name of corporate greed. It was only when advocacy groups like Waterkeepers Alliance, Cape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club brought in the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) that Duke Energy sat up and took notice in 2013.
Lynn Good  CEO of Duke Energy  in an interview on Feb. 7  2014.
Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy, in an interview on Feb. 7, 2014.
screen grab
This latest lawsuit is just one of a string of lawsuits filed against Duke Energy for violating the federal Clean Water Act over groundwater contamination. It's interesting to note that before 2013 because no one had ever threatened to take the power company to court.
"Duke Energy never got notices about being in violation for hundreds of results from test wells near ash basins. They showed that heavy-metal particles in the groundwater exceeded state limits," said Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign Coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. Liseenby says that additionally, the DENR wouldn't enforce the law. The agency refused to issue violations or fines.
But as of 2013, the DENR has to do something, and it's about time. Duke Energy cannot run the state, even though they have been sitting pretty for many years. People's lives are at stake now, and the continued pollution of North Carolina's water is at the center of the battle. Jamie Kritzer, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said in November, 2013: "As the … complaints stipulate, the utility’s permit violations, without assessing the problem and taking corrective action, pose a serious danger to the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state of North Carolina and serious harm to the water resources of the state."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about North carolina, Duke energy, Yadkin River, unlined impoundments, Southern Environmental Law Center
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