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Another South Carolina Utility Agrees to Remove Coal Ash from River Shared by North and South Carolina

Another South Carolina Utility Agrees to Remove Coal Ash from River Shared by North and South Carolina

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Santee Cooper will clean up coal ash near Myrtle Beach. In 2012, Catawba Riverkeeper settled suit with SCE&G to remove 2.4 million tons of coal ash from Catawba-Wateree River near Columbia.

Another South Carolina Utility Agrees to Remove Coal Ash from River Shared by North and South Carolina

Grainger Power Station, Conway, South Carolina. Coal ash storage is on the southeast side of the property, where oranges and blues are visible.

For a second time, a South Carolina utility today agreed to remove coal ash from the banks of a river that flows through both North and South Carolina.  In a settlement agreement with conservation groups, Santee Cooper agreed to remove 1.3 million tons of coal ash from the banks of the Waccamaw River in Conway, South Carolina. The settlement resolves lawsuits filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“There is no reason why people in North Carolina should have less protection from toxic pollution than people in South Carolina,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for SELC. “And there is no reason why a river should be polluted by coal ash when it flows through North Carolina, but be protected from toxic coal ash pollution once it crosses the South Carolina line.”

In 2012, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and SELC settled a suit with SCE&G under which SCE&G agreed to remove 2.4 million tons of coal ash from the Catawba-Wateree River near Columbia, South Carolina.  The Catawba-Wateree River also flows through both North and South Carolina.  CRF and SELC are also engaged in litigation against Duke Energy for coal ash contamination at Marshall (Lake Norman), Riverbend (Mountain Island Lake), and Allen (Lake Wylie) Steam Stations.

In contrast, Duke refused to move its coal ash from the banks of Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water reservoir for the Charlotte metropolitan area, even though it is on the same river – the Catawba – as the SCE&G coal ash lagoons, which are being emptied.  Duke also refused to remove coal ash from lagoons that are threatening drinking water wells and contaminating a popular fishing lake in Wilmington.

“Like the Waccamaw, many of North Carolina’s rivers flow through both states,” said Christine Ellis, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper. “Our communities and our rivers should be protected from toxic pollution whether they are in North Carolina or South Carolina.  The Grainger settlement provides for the protection of our beautiful black water Waccamaw River in South Carolina. We are grateful to Santee Cooper for agreeing to remove its toxic coal ash. This is a great day for the Waccamaw River and for Conway, our Rivertown.”

The North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) brought enforcement actions against Duke Energy for unlawful water pollution at every coal ash site in North Carolina operated by the utility.  However, Duke refused to take action to clean up its coal ash pollution, and DENR has not required Duke to clean up its coal ash.  Duke and DENR even refused to take action to clean up coal ash on a major drinking water reservoir, Mountain Island Lake.

For decades, Santee Cooper stored coal ash from its Conway Grainger generating station in unlined lagoons in wetlands beside the Waccamaw River. The lagoons discharge arsenic into the groundwater and the neighboring Waccamaw River, at times at levels 300 times the legal limit.  Santee Cooper closed the Grainger plant and had proposed, as Duke has proposed, that the coal ash stay beside the river in a capped landfill.  Just as Duke’s proposals have been opposed by thousands of North Carolinians, Santee Cooper’s proposed riverside capped landfill was opposed by local community members at a public hearing, and Conway City Council adopted a resolution opposing the proposal and asking Santee Cooper to remove the ash from Conway.

“This settlement is a landmark agreement for South Carolina’s Lowcountry,” said Nancy Cave, North Coast Office Director for the Coastal Conservation League. “The settlement removes toxic coal ash from endangering the river and communities along the river.  It also provides further precedent for the handling of coal ash in the future.”

Under the settlement, Santee Cooper must remove the ash from Conway and the Waccamaw River within seven to 10 years. Santee Cooper will also remove one foot of soil from beneath the lagoons. If it stores the ash, Santee Cooper must put the ash in a Class 3 or better landfill. The settlement also contains requirements for groundwater testing and for action to be taken if the arsenic level in the groundwater does not decline.

“Coal ash is a toxic legacy of old coal-fired plants,” said Ulla Reeves of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “To protect our rivers, our people, and groundwater, the coal ash must be stored properly, and this settlement shows what all utilities across our region ought to be doing.”

The fate of Duke’s coal ash at Mountain Island Lake and Asheville is pending in the North Carolina courts.  Duke and DENR have proposed a settlement that does not require cleanup of the coal ash and its pollution.  That proposal was opposed by virtually all members of the public who submitted comments.


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