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Groups Ask Indiana to Reject Duke Energy Plan

Coal ash from the bottom of the Dan River near the site of Duke Energy's spill. (Sierra Club)
Coal ash from the bottom of the Dan River near the site of Duke Energy's spill. (Sierra Club)
August 10, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS — Duke Energy has a plan to dispose of millions of gallons of coal ash waste, but environmental groups are asking policy makers to reject it, saying it poses a health hazard.

Indiana is requiring Duke to prepare closure plans for 20 coal ash lagoons, many of which are leaking and are in the Wabash and Ohio River floodplains. These lagoons aren't lined, and Duke has proposed a plan to "cap in place" in some areas, and to excavate in others, and the company calls those plans "clean closures.

But Earthjustice attorney Jenny Cassel said there would be no barrier between the ash and the shallow aquifers that adjoin the rivers. She described that a prescription for pollution, just as Duke experienced in North Carolina in 2014 when the utility caused a massive spill of coal ash wastewater into a 70-mile stretch of the Dan River.

"Folks saw what happens when you leave unstable, dirty leaching ash ponds right next to a river,” Cassel said. "They saw exactly what the threat of that is, and decided that they weren't going to stand for it in North Carolina. And I think we need to absolutely do the same thing in Indiana."

Cassel said one option preferable to Duke's "cap in place" plan is to excavate the ash and transfer it to dry, lined landfills away from streams and rivers. Duke says it is doing that, as well as excavating at plants in both North Carolina and South Carolina.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management will consider Duke's plan within the next couple of months.

Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison said Duke should have learned from its mistakes, but instead the company wants to drain the coal ash ponds and walk away while the toxic waste sits beneath the state's water tables. He predicted it will endanger people, fish and the rivers for decades to come.

“It comes down to a question of Duke Energy's attempts to pinch pennies and help its bottom line,” Harrison said. “But our position is, let's get it right now and deal with this, so we're not dealing with it for the next ten, 20, 30, 100 years."

Cassel added the state should require safer technology.

"They can't let it stand that Duke would plan to just throw some dirt and potentially a liner on the top of the ash that's sitting in the water table, soaking wet - that they're not going to stand for their water to be polluted here in Indiana,” she said.

Duke said closing ash basins requires 30 years of groundwater monitoring and that its plans are based on extensive engineering and scientific studies by independent experts for each basin.

More information is online here.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN