WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) today released a letter to North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla expressing grave concern over the Dan River coal ash spill in Rockingham County, North Carolina and seeking clarification on the potential threat of other coal ash ponds located near communities throughout the state.
In his letter Butterfield writes, “The safety of coal ash ponds has concerned North Carolinians since long before the February 2, 2014 Dan River coal ash spill and it appears that we are only now beginning to see the alarming truth about coal ash in our communities. It is troubling that it has taken the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history to mobilize North Carolina’s regulators and private sector to engage in a frank dialogue about its dangers and propose changes that mitigate those hazards. To that end, I respectfully request that you respond to the questions included in this letter.”
Several coal ash ponds are located in Wayne County at the H.F. Lee Plant near Goldsboro, which is mostly located in the First Congressional District, and sits near the Neuse River that runs through much of eastern North Carolina. The Congressman has contacted Duke Energy to request a tour of their Wayne County facilities.
Butterfield’s full letter with questions to Secretary Skvarla follows.
March 13, 2014
The Honorable John E. Skvarla, III
North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
1601 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-1601
Dear Secretary Skvarla:
The safety of coal ash ponds has concerned North Carolinians since long before the February 2, 2014 Dan River coal ash spill and it appears that we are only now beginning to see the alarming truth about coal ash in our communities. It is troubling that it has taken the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history to mobilize North Carolina’s regulators and private sector to engage in a frank dialogue about its dangers and propose changes that mitigate those hazards. To that end, I respectfully request that you respond to the questions included in this letter. I ask that you provide this information not later than March 21, 2014.
Estimates about the magnitude and impact of the coal ash spill have varied dramatically and North Carolinians deserve accurate information. Initial estimates of 82,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River made the spill one of the largest in U.S. history.
The health and environmental threats posed by the Dan River coal ash spill are alarming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have indicated that there are coal ash bars up to six feet deep in the river and contaminants have traveled up to seventy miles downriver.
The Dan River spill has an impact that extends beyond the boundaries of Rockingham County and reverberate throughout North Carolina and into Virginia. Undoubtedly the investigation by federal authorities and evaluation from the general public will help shed some light on the cause of this calamity. The scrutiny of the spill has also helped highlight troubling revelations about other coal ash ponds in our state.
It is clear that Duke Energy and NCDENR have a daunting challenge in cleaning up the catastrophe and remediating other coal ash hazards throughout the state. The Dan River spill could have been avoided and we owe it to all North Carolinians to put the necessary safeguards in place to ensure a disaster of that magnitude does not occur again.
We must take a serious look at all of the aspects that contributed to the Dan River spill and ensure our children do not feel the effects of insufficient coal ash regulation decades in the future. Please provide answers to these difficult questions so I may be better informed.
- What quantity of coal ash spilled into the Dan River? How did the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) reach that estimate?
- Were estimates of the amount of coal ash spilled into the Dan River made by surveyors paid by Duke Energy?
- Did any coal ash from the spill reach Kerr Lake or Lake Gaston?
- Could clean-up activities cause coal ash to re-enter the water current and travel downstream to Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston?
- Does scientific evidence show that it could take years for the full impacts of the spill to work through the Dan River ecosystem?
- The H.F. Lee Plant near Goldsboro, North Carolina on the Neuse River is one of the six Duke Energy facilities that were found to lack federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to legally discharge stormwater. Can NCDENR account for the quality of water discharged into rivers from those facilities during unpermitted time periods? What impact can uncontrolled stormwater discharge have on human health, wildlife, and the environment?
- Mandatory groundwater samples near three unlined coal ash ponds at the H.F. Lee Plant have exceeded 15A North Carolina Administrative Code 02L groundwater rules and EPA standards for arsenic and heavy metals on numerous occasions. Will NCDENR provide a comprehensive summary of each groundwater test that has exceeded groundwater safety levels? What actions did NCDENR take to address those exceedances? If none, why did NCDENR fail to act?
- A March 6, 2014 ruling by a Superior Court Judge requires Duke Energy to clean up coal ash hazards immediately. What steps will NCDENR take to help Duke Energy comply with the court ruling? What is the timetable for cleanup?
- Will NCDENR work with the North Carolina General Assembly to develop new safeguards to ensure this sort of catastrophe does not happen again?
- Duke Energy’s Chief Financial Officer Steve Young estimated the company will pay $5.5 billion to clean up coal ash threats across the state through 2024. While Duke Energy has said it will pay for the cleanup of the Dan River spill the same cannot be said for other coal ash sites. Will NCDENR work with the North Carolina Utilities Commission to ensure ratepayers in North Carolina are not saddled with the financial burden of cleaning up coal ash at ponds throughout the state?
If you have any questions regarding this inquiry, please contact me or Dennis Sills on my staff at (202) 225-3101. I look forward to your timely response.
Thank you very much.
Very truly yours,
G. K. Butterfield
Member of Congress
cc: The Honorable Pat McCrory, Governor, North Carolina
The Honorable Heather McTeer Toney, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4