Mary Beth Nevulis is the managing editor of Storm Water Solutions. Nevulis can be reached at [email protected]
Feb 12, 2014

Toxic Environment

Last week, SWS reported that a storm water pipe above a Duke Energy-owned coal ash pond failed, sending massive amounts of coal ash into the Dan River; a certified laboratory analysis conducted by the Waterkeeper Alliance showed that the water immediately downstream of the ash spill (between Eden, N.C., and Danville, Va.) was contaminated with high levels of arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and other toxic metals typically found in coal ash. 

And now the question is: Why did this happen?

An Associated Press news story on Feb. 9 reported that over the past year, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has halted three different Clean Water Act (CWA) lawsuits aimed at forcing Duke Energy to clean up the coal ash pits. 

The state agency asserted its own authority in enforcing the CWA and took control of environmental enforcement at each of Duke’s remaining 31 coal ash ponds in North Carolina; that enforcement came in the form of modest fines, but no actual cleanup of the ponds.

Now, in the aftermath of last week’s catastrophic spill, clean water advocates are charging that North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke for 28 years, has cooperated with his former employer and campaign donor to ensure minor environmental penalties.

McCrory defended his track record with Duke, telling the Associated Press: "My administration is the first in North Carolina history to take legal action against the utility regarding coal ash ponds … We have been moving on this issue since the beginning of my term and will continue to do so."

It’s pretty clear that we have not heard the last about the Dan River disaster and its political and environmental implications. Stay tuned, and follow SWS on Twitter to see an aggregate of all the latest storm water and erosion control news.