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Conservation Groups File To Intervene In State Lawsuit Against Duke Over Coal Ash Pollution

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A coalition of local conservation groups could soon be part of North Carolina’s lawsuit against Duke / Progress Energy. 

In an action filed earlier this month, the state says the utility giant illegally contaminated groundwater at its Sutton coal-fired plant, just outside of Wilmington.  The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the request to intervene yesterday – in order for Cape Fear River Watch, the Sierra Club, and the Waterkeeper Alliance to have a seat at the table. 

Duke Energy is now facing legal action concerning every one of its 14 coal-fired plants in North Carolina – including the Sutton Plant near Wilmington.   The Southern Environmental Law Center has successfully intervened in two other suits concerning coal ash pollution near Asheville and Charlotte-area facilities. 

Frank Holleman is a Senior Attorney representing the conservation groups. 

“We want to intervene to be sure that there are independent citizens’ groups that are at the table pushing to clean up the coal ash pollution of the water resources of the Wilmington area that have been caused at the Sutton Plant.”  

Both the State and the SELC say Duke has contaminated groundwater with toxic pollutants that threaten public health and water resources – including the drinking water supply of a nearby low-income, racially-diverse community that’s dependent on wells. 

The company plans to retire its coal-fired facility by the end of this year.  Once the ash basins are no longer in use, Duke Energy’s Erin Culbert says the multi-year decommissioning process will begin.  The first step:  an engineering study that evaluates the site-specific hydrology. 

It will likely be a year, says Culbert, before Duke can submit a clean-up plan to the state.   

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.