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SELC Considering Next Move with Duke in Light of State Lawsuit; Sutton Lake Still a Concern

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Now that the State of North Carolina is suing Duke / Progress Energy for illegal pollution at all of its coal plants in the state, citizens’ groups are taking stock.  The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a Notice of Intent two months ago alleging illegal groundwater contamination and threats to public health.  Now the legal firm, which represents a coalition of environmental groups, will decide whether to pursue federal action.    

The state’s lawsuit, which targets the remaining twelve of the fourteen North Carolina coal-fired plants owned by Duke, says the violations pose a serious danger to the health, safety, and welfare of North Carolina residents.  Current pollution levels could also inflict serious harm on the state’s water resources, according to the 50-page complaint. 

Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, says his group will still consider other legal options – including remedies for Lake Sutton.  Holleman, Cape Fear Riverwatch, and others contend runoff from the coal ash ponds at the Sutton Plant has damaged the Lake’s fishery, and potentially, public health.

“Is it responsible to store tons of waste containing toxic substances in unlined holes in the ground next to our major waterways?  That’s what’s going on and today if anybody proposed such a thing – nobody would take them seriously.  But unfortunately that’s what’s happening at Lake Sutton.  Today.”

Holleman says it’s significant that the lawsuit was filed under oath as a verified complaint.  That carries more weight than allegations – taking on the gravity of court testimony. 

But Duke Spokesperson Erin Culbert says because Duke is closing the Sutton Plant’s coal operation, the ash basins will be safely decommissioned -- which should resolve ongoing questions.  Culbert also says Duke has complied with water discharge permits and is committed to protecting water quality. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.