- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Duke Energy said Thursday it’s planning to move all of its coal ash from pits at a South Carolina plant that environmentalists say threatens the Saluda River.

The company’s plan is part of an agreement in principle with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has been pushing Duke for years to clean up the unlined, leaky ash dumps at the W.S. Lee facility near Greenville. The environmental legal group has filed several lawsuits to force Duke to clean up the Charlotte-based utility’s coal ash pits.

The Lee plant, which is set to convert to natural gas within a year, has three unlined pits - two that are still in operation and one that was closed in the early 1970s.

Duke told state regulators three months ago that it planned to move ash from the closed pit to a lined one, but it was still studying options for the rest of the waste. Coal ash contains numerous chemicals that are toxic to humans and wildlife, including arsenic, lead, chromium and thallium.

With that “analysis complete,” Duke will dig up all the ash and relocate it to a “fully-lined solution,” said John Elnitsky, the senior vice president for ash strategy at the nation’s largest electricity company.

But unlike the waste from the inactive pit - which will be transported by truck to a solid waste landfill in Homer, Georgia - the company is still looking at places to store the rest of ash. One option: a possible on-site landfill.

Duke “incorporated input from the environmental community and other stakeholders to ensure this solution was consistent with our guiding principles,” he said.

About 3.2 million tons of coal ash is stored at the plant.

The deal was praised by environmentalists.

“Today, Duke Energy has agreed to do the right thing in South Carolina,” said Frank Holleman, the environmental law group’s senior attorney.

Nick Anastos, a board member of the group Save Our Saluda, agreed.

“Once the coal ash is removed, a major threat to the Saluda River will be eliminated,” he said.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control had raised serious questions about the safety of the earthen dams holding back the waste and asked Duke to address dam safety issues.

Duke told regulators at a meeting in September that the company had identified some safety concerns with the dams. The company decided to inspect all its ash pits after a coal ash spill at the utility’s Eden, North Carolina plant in February coated more than 70-miles of the Dan River in gray muck.


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