Environmental groups have been trying since 2013 to use the federal Clean Water Act to force Duke Energy to eliminate its coal ash dumps in North Carolina. It took 35 million gallons of toxic waste pouring into the Dan River for them to finally win a stake in the fight.
A judge ruled Monday that a coalition of environmental groups can participate in state enforcement action against Duke Energy for groundwater pollution caused by its coal ash dumps. The coalition was backed by other environmental groups who say their efforts to enact the Clean Water Act were barred by the N.C.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which allegedly blocked citizen lawsuits by intervening and settling with Duke for modest fines instead of mandating a clean up that might have prevented the spill.
A Duke spokesman said the company will not appeal Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway's ruling. Without the ruling, only Duke officials and state regulators would have participated in the case.
"This means that local conservations groups in communities across North Carolina will have a direct say and play a direct role in determining what will happen in the state enforcement action against Duke's coal pollution and coal ash storage," said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the coalition. "We have seen that if only Duke and DENR are there, the community and clean water are not protected."
Drew Elliot, a spokesman for DENR, said the agency plans to continue to pursue coal ash cleanup via Gov. Pat McCrory's proposed plan, which allows Duke to set a timetable for eventually closing the waste dumps along North Carolina's rivers and lakes.