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The Voice of the Black Community

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Protests aimed at coal ash cleanup
Advocates take on Duke Energy, N.C. officials
 
Published Thursday, August 14, 2014 1:33 pm
by Herbert L. White

 

PHOTO/PAUL WILLIAMS III
Danielle Hilton (left) and Antoine James were among the protesters at Duke Energy's corporate headquarters in Charlotte on Thursday. Charlotte Environmental Action rallied to draw attention to Duke's handling of coal ash ponds in North Carolina and its impact across the state.

There's no pacifying Danielle Hilton’s criticism of Duke Energy’s coal ash policy.


Hilton and protesters from Charlotte Environmental Action dressed in diapers, bottles and bibs on Thursday to rally against the utility’s handling of coal ash ponds across North Carolina. They also took aim at state government for lax oversight of environmental regulations.


“I’m drinking this water, my daughter is drinking this water,” Hilton said at the rally in front of Duke’s corporate center on South Tryon Street. “When I had a child here in North Carolina, I was so excited about all the beauty that’s here and shortly thereafter I learned what was happening at the power plants with the coal ash not being regulated.”


Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal to generate energy. It contains toxic substances that include arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, beryllium and thallium.

Protest at Duke Energy's corporate headquarters in Charlotte on August 14, 2014.


Duke owns 33 coal ash ponds, including the retired Riverbend facility in Mount Holly. Riverbend’s unlined and uncapped pond is adjacent to Mountain Island Lake, which supplies the Charlotte region with water from the Catawba River. Duke has promised to clean up four ponds, including Riverbend, suggesting that consumers should foot the bill – estimated at $10 billion over 30 years – for the rest.


A February spill at the Dan River plant near Eden pumped 39,000 tons of coal ash into the water, turning the river gray for about 70 miles. The utility removed 2,500 tons of sediment before ceasing operations.


“We love Mountain Island Lake, we drink that water and that lake is at risk because of Duke’s irresponsibility,” Hilton said. “They’re not in compliance with regulations.”


“We are modernizing our generation fleet - transitioning to cleaner, more efficient energy sources,” according to Duke Energy’s website. “As part of this plan, we place a high priority on closing ash basins across the fleet once they are no longer needed. We are taking another look at our coal ash management and basin closure plans as a result of the event at our retired Dan River Steam Station after a broken stormwater pipe released coal ash into the river.


“We have initiated a near-term engineering review of the ash basins to identify and address potential risks. In addition, a team is focusing its expertise and energy on identifying ways to strengthen the comprehensive ash management plan.”


Duke’s response, environmental advocates counter, is insufficient, and so is that of N.C. officials and lawmakers. CEA leader Kathy Sparrow criticized Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Duke executive, for conflicts of interest that include the revelation this week that McCrory sold off Duke Energy shares after a massive coal ash spill into the Dan River earlier this year. In previous state ethics filings, McCrory didn’t list his financial stake in Duke.


She also blasted the General Assembly for failing to pass legislation that would hold Duke accountable for coal ash recovery and cleanup.


“(The Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has been gutted by the legislature and they’ve also been instructed by McCrory to treat the polluters as though they were their customers, as though they were a business serving customers,” Sparrow said. “The legislature did not pass a …bill and nothing is resolved.”


Said Hilton: “I’ve been writing by legislators to do something about it; been writing the governor to do something about it; writing the senators in the federal government to do something about it and still nothing has been done.”


Public awareness and political pressure is key to forcing the state and Duke to clean the ponds, the protesters maintained. Otherwise, the possibility of leaks into water sources will remain.


“That’s where the whole ballgame lies,” Sparrow said. “It lies with the people of the state.”

Also: Charlotte proposes coal ash deal

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