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Environmental Coalition Seeks to Ignite Local Activism on Coal Ash

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Duke Energy's Sutton Plant, New Hanover County

A coalition of environmental groups is working to ignite local activism on the coal ash front.  

At a forum earlier this week, representatives from the Sierra Club, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Cape Fear Riverkeeper urged residents to write to local leaders – specifically Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County Chairman Woody White -- asking them to adopt resolutions demanding coal ash clean-up. 

The call to action comes after last month’s presentation to Wilmington City Council about the potential environmental dangers of coal ash. 


It was the February coal ash spill fouling 70 miles along the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina that catapulted concern over coal ash ponds onto a national stage and into the mainstream conversation.  Not long after that disaster, state officials discovered workers at a Duke Energy facility in Moncure pumping an estimated 61 million gallons of toxic wastewater into a canal that feeds into the Cape Fear River.

Environmentalists have long worried that unlined coal ash ponds, including those at the Sutton Plant in New Hanover County, will eventually foul area ground and surface water.   

A resolution at the local level that demands clean-up and a transparent timeline, says Zachary Keith of the North Carolina Sierra Club, is a tactic that worked for Conway, South Carolina.

"Now, as we have an opportunity to get our city council and county commissioners involved… Obviously that's not the mechanism that makes the change happen, but it builds the momentum as we saw in Conway, South Carolina when that city council took that level of action it actually spurred the utility to clean up their coal ash ponds.  So it’s something that we can do to get our city council and our county commissioners more involved in this issue."

Duke Energy has consistently asserted that the de-commissioning process for the Sutton coal ash ponds will begin once experts have completed their studies and determined the most effective method.

Keith says he has a handful of citizen letters addressed to local leaders that will soon be sent. 

At the state level, there are potentially three different pieces of legislation that could emerge during the upcoming short session.  One of those proposals, recently put forth by Governor Pat McCrory, has been heavily criticized by members of both parties.