coal ash disposal

Coal Ash Wednesday: DENR putting the brakes on cleanup

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Citing the costs of remediation as their main concern:

North Carolina’s environment agency asked Tuesday that its own enforcement cases over Duke Energy coal ash practices at 10 power plants be put on hold. “A stay of these proceedings will ensure careful consideration of each of these factors, including the economic impacts of the proposed manner of closure, during the process for approval of closure plans,” DENR’s motions said.

The coal ash law requires that the potential costs to consumers be considered in closing the ponds. Duke’s current cleanup estimate is $3.5 billion and has said it will ask permission to pass costs to customers. DENR cites an earlier estimate of up to $10 billion.

This is a classic Republican-engineered situation: You craft a piece of legislation that sounds good but is embedded with a self-destruct mechanism. In this case, it's the costs associated with doing what must be done. If the GOP had been serious about its concerns for ratepayers, they could have easily fixed that before passing the bill:

DENR tries to block coal ash cleanup agreement

"It wasn't our idea, so we won't support it":

North Carolina's environmental officials moved Wednesday to stop an agreement that would commit Duke Energy to scooping out and moving coal ash from three more unlined and leaking pits.

Duke and a coalition of environmental groups last month agreed that, if a judge approved, the energy giant would commit itself to excavating the coal ash from three additional power plants: Cape Fear in Moncure, H.F Lee in Goldsboro and Weatherspoon near Lumberton.

And what's even crazier, one of the stated reasons DENR is trying to legally intervene is to avoid future legal interventions. Isn't that like smacking somebody so other people will feel sorry for that person and less likely to smack them? Here's more from the SELC:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Groups challenge proposed coal ash dumps

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If It's such a good idea, why the shortcuts?

The groups—the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump (CCACAD) and EnvironmentaLEE—filed a petition for a contested case hearing with the state's Office of Administrative Hearings Monday. The office hears legal cases against state agencies such as DENR.

In their legal challenge, the nonprofits say DENR's actions will have a "significant and adverse impact on the health and well-being" of the environmental groups' members, as well as their families and their property. The challenge also claims that DENR acted "erroneously" and regulated the projects as mine reclamation projects rather than landfills. "Communities targeted for coal ash disposal deserve a regulatory agency that has their best interests at heart, not what is in the best interest of Duke Energy," said BREDL community organizer Therese Vick in a statement. "DENR had sufficient reason to deny the permits, and they did not."

I realize other groups want this to proceed as quickly as possible, so the leaking from various older ponds will be brought to a halt. But that's no reason to ignore the same kinds of bad decisions that led to the coal ash crisis in the first place.

Wall Street is betting you and I will pay for coal ash cleanup

And Duke Energy shareholders are already reaping the benefits:

The aforementioned state legislation imposed a moratorium on Duke from seeking any sort of rate increase related to the clean-up through mid-January this year. But last week, the ratings agency Fitch upgraded Duke’s credit rating, in part reflecting the “significant, albeit manageable” coal-ash clean-up costs, as well as its expectation that the costs incurred will be recoverable from ratepayers.

Clearly, the market believes Duke will recover costs via ratepayers. The stock hit a high at the end of January, before the general correction in utilities sparked a selloff.

Once again we're entering the "tail wagging the dog" territory, where the stock market determines business behavior instead of the other way around, like it's supposed to. The same thing happened leading up to the mortgage crisis, and you see where that got us. Due to the NC Utilities Commission's bent responsibility to ensure utilities remain "profitable," Duke Energy can legally argue that not allowing them to recover costs from ratepayers will bring down their stock values, thus hurting their overall profits. The fact that Duke's stock price was artificially inflated in anticipation of the NCUC's ruling will not even be mentioned, unless the public representative or somebody like NCWARN brings it up. That's no way to do the people's business.

Coal Ash Wednesday: 12 more NC sites to be excavated

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And the people in Chatham and Lee Counties said, "Wait, what?"

The residue of coal burned to generate power will be removed from 12 more waste pits at plants in Moncure, Goldsboro, Lumberton and Mooresboro, the country's largest electric company said. Most of the ash, which contains toxic heavy metals, would be moved to former open-pit clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties.

"We're making strong progress to protect groundwater and close ash basins, delivering on our commitment to safe, sustainable, long-term solutions," Duke Energy Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good said in a written statement.

That makes a total of (I believe) 20 coal ash impoundments that will be re-dumped into 2 counties. If the new impoundments hold, and the numerous coal trains don't scatter dust all over the place, this should be a net positive. Of course, I don't live in either of those counties, and I hesitate to gloss over their concerns. We'll keep watching.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Permits? We don't need no stinking permits

Duke Energy's coal ash disposal "experts" are already in trouble with regulators:

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources cited Green Meadow LLC and Moncure Holdings LLC with violating state regulations by starting grading and earth-moving work at the Brickhaven No. 2 mine without first obtaining a construction stormwater permit.

It also issued a notice of deficiency to Green Meadow for failing to meet the conditions of the mining permit at Brickhaven by neglecting to install erosion-control devices at the site before starting the grading work.

Tom Reeder might think this is no big deal, but the implications are sobering. If these two entities are either inept or uncaring when it comes to following required methods of construction, the integrity of the entire project is called into question. And if Duke Energy succeeds in convincing the NCUC to allow them to charge ratepayers for this work, we may be paying a hefty price to move coal ash from one leaking pond to another leaking pond.

Public hearings on Lee and Chatham coal ash dumps

The first is tonight and the second Thursday evening:

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources will hold two public hearings this week on a plan to allow Duke Energy to move up to 20 million tons of coal ash to two landfills in Lee and Chatham counties. The projects require multiple environmental permits. The hearings will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with sign-up for speakers beginning at 5 p.m.

▪ Monday, Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, 1801 Nash St., Sanford.

▪ Thursday, Chatham County Historic Courthouse, 9 Hillsboro St., Pittsboro.

It appears there is some conflict within the environmental community over this plan:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Sanford passes resolution opposing dumps

The Sanford City Council passed a resolution opposing the dumping of coal ash within city limits, but there's a lot more...

Posted by BlueNC on Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Coal Ash Wednesday: A fait accompli for Lee County

County Manager breaks the bad news:

If residents want to see who voted to place coal ash in Lee County, go to the North Carolina Legislature’s webpage and pull Senate Bill 729 from the 2014 session. Make sure you see who sponsored the bill. They are the ones who developed the plans to place coal ash in clay mine pits in North Carolina. Because Lee County is the clay/brick capital of North Carolina, the bill gave Duke the right to place coal ash in the county without approval of the local government.

A vote to move forward on the recent financial agreement offered by Duke is not a vote to put the coal ash in Lee County – that already was done by the legislature, just like fracking. A vote in favor of the agreement is to accept money from Duke that will hopefully help the community overcome the stigma of having a coal ash storage facility. Voting against the agreement will mean we won't get the money and coal ash will, in all likelihood, come anyway.

My initial reaction to this op-ed was to say, "It ain't over 'til it's over." Republicans in the General Assembly might consider themselves all-powerful, but the courts so far have shown that feeling to be mistaken. Several of their more outrageous moves have been delayed, blocked, or simply ruled unconstitutional. That being said, I'm not the one trying to manage a county on what has to be a shoestring budget. And he's right about the legislation he referenced:

Duke's Outsourced Coal Ash Lies Hit Lee County

Duke Outsourcing Its Coal Ash Lies

Duke Energy’s coal ash problem has hit another snag this week. According to The Rant, Charah, Inc. (the company Duke has contracted to handle its coal ash) lied on its permit requests with the state twice.

First, Charah claimed the clay mine they would be using for the coal ash dump would be returned “to its original topography” and that the dumping would “take place outside of a 50-foot buffer zone from any wetlands.”

However, as Sanford’s Environmental Affairs Board found out last night, these are both not true. Charah will pile coal ash 50 to 60 feet higher than the original topography, and Charah has since “applied for four permits to mitigate damage to wetlands” that are supposed to be protected by the 50-foot buffer.

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