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Judge Revokes Coal-Ash Fill Permits for Chatham, Lee Counties

Nationwide, most coal ash is disposed into lined landfills, known as ponds, often located near power plants where the coal was burned. (Adobe Stock)
Nationwide, most coal ash is disposed into lined landfills, known as ponds, often located near power plants where the coal was burned. (Adobe Stock)
December 18, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. - A judge in Raleigh has revoked permits that would have allowed coal ash to be dumped at mine sites in Chatham and Lee counties, saying the permits were improperly issued.

The state Department of Environmental Quality gave permits in 2015 to waste-management companies Green Meadow and Charah LLC. Environmental groups first filed the lawsuit after the companies were given the green light to use coal ash from Duke Energy to fill in sites that had never been mined.

Therese Vick, a community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, called the court ruling a win for public health.

"I think it's very significant," she said, "not only for folks in Chatham and Lee counties, but for the rest of the state."

Vick said local residents had expressed concern that coal ash -- with pollutants that include arsenic, lead and radium -- would contaminate groundwater. She said contaminants have been detected above Environmental Protection Agency limits in ground and surface water in Chatham County. The companies have 30 days to appeal the court's decision.

For decades, Vick said, coal ash -- the leftover byproduct of burning coal -- has been used as structural fill for building parking lots and other construction projects.

"Well, in North Carolina, coal ash is a huge problem," she said, "and it's been disposed of in various ways -- used as fill, people used to put it in their driveways, people used it as a soil amendment."

Vick's group believes the state should require that coal ash be stored on utility-owned land.

"Isolating it above ground, this is a safer solution. I won't even call it a 'safe' solution, but it's a safer solution," she said, "and keeping the liability where it belongs, with the energy companies that generate this waste."

North Carolina's Coal Ash Management Act, passed in 2016, allows coal ash to be used as structural fill in mine-reclamation projects, but these permits were granted before that law took effect.

Court documents are online at bredl.org, and the Coal Ash Management Act is at ncleg.net.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC