Court clears Duke Energy plan to clean more coal-ash pits

A judge has rejected a bid by North Carolina’s environment agency to block Duke Energy, the country’s largest energy company, from removing toxic coal ash from more plants than required under a new state law.

Duke Energy has asked to add three power plants to the list of four plants where they will begin scooping the ash, which is leaking arsenic, lead and other pollutants into waterways. In May, the company plead guilty to environmental crimes over a North Carolina power plant’s coal ash spill into a river and management of coal ash basins in the state.

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway announced the order after the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources sought to stop Duke Energy from going beyond a new state law requiring it to excavate pits at four plants.

The state agency argued Duke Energy doesn’t have infinite money and time to clean out the problem sites. The company shouldn’t decide which get top priority without public input, agency attorney Anita LeVeaux said. The agency also is trying to limit costs that Duke Energy later could seek to pass along to electricity customers, agency spokeswoman Crystal Feldman said.

The state stepped up its regulations last year after coal ash collected at the utility’s Eden power plant spilled into the Dan River, coating 70 miles of the waterway in toxic, gray sludge that turned it into “toxic soup,” according to environmentalists. The state law requires Duke Energy to stop pollution leaking from all 14 of its North Carolina coal ash dumps by 2029.

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