Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality ratified a settlement agreement on Jan. 2 that will lead to closure of nine coal ash basins, and the clean up and relocation of eighty million tons of coal ash to safer lined landfills by 2037.

Mike Pucci, head of the Roanoke River Basin Association, said that this is a beneficial judgment for the entire state and a big win because it gets the coal ash away from the water. 

Pucci got involved with the Roanoke River Basin Association after the coal ash spill in the Dan River in 2014, which he said was never properly cleaned up. 

The 2014 spill of 39,000 tons of coal ash contaminated seventy miles of the Dan River. The state admitted to trying to cover it up in 2016, after a toxicologist under Republican governor Pat McCrory testified that state officials told residents that their water was safe knowing that it wasn’t. 

Coal ash contains toxic, cancer causing chemicals like arsenic, lead, chromium, and selenium.

“North Carolina’s communities have lived with the threat of coal ash pollution for too long. They can now be certain that the clean-up of the last coal ash impoundments in our state will begin this year,” said DEQ Secretary Micheal Regan. “We are holding Duke Accountable and will continue to hold them accountable for their actions as we protect public health, the environment, and our natural resources.” 

The agreement is seen as a win by Duke Energy, DEQ, and the community groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center because the deal is both reasonable for Duke Energy financially, and the groups that fought to close the coal ash basins will see dangerous coal ash sites properly closed and relocated.

“This agreement is a historic cleanup of coal ash pollution in North Carolina, and the DEQ and community groups throughout the state have provided essential leadership in obtaining it,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The water resources and families of North Carolina will benefit from this statewide coal ash cleanup for years to come.”

According to a press release from Duke Energy, the agreement details a “reasonable and prudent plan for basin closure that continues to protect people, communities and the environment with a keen focus on investing for the future and our shared clean energy vision.”

“The agreement significantly reduces the cost to close our coal ash basins in the Carolinas for our customers, while delivering the same environmental benefits as full excavation,” said Stephen De May, North Carolina president of Duke Energy. “We are fully focused on these important activities and building a clean energy future for the Carolinas.”

Under the agreement, seven basins will excavated in North Carolina including two in Belmont, one in Belews Creek, one in Roxboro, one in Semora, and two in Mooresboro. 

At the Marshall Steam Station in Terrell, N.C. and the Roxboro Plant, uncapped basins ash will be excavated and moved, leaving ash that was already covered in the past. The material being left will not be disturbed and will be monitored and safely closed under other state regulations.

The agreement completely resolves the pending dispute over coal ash basins in North Carolina and requires Duke Energy to enter into a court-supervised consent order with DEQ and the community groups involved.