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NC regulators add 'environmental justice review' to protect communities from coal ash

TheNorth Carolina Department of Environmental Quality said April 7 it will conductan "environmental justice review" for each coal ash landfillapplication filed by Duke EnergyCorp. to protect minority communities.

Theagency said it will "go beyond state and federal requirements to ensureminority communities are not negatively impacted by Duke Energy coal ashlandfills."

DEQAssistant Secretary Tom Reeder initially made the announcement at a town hall meetingin Walnut Cove, N.C., that focused on the impacts of landfills on low-incomeand minority communities. Duke Energy's Belews Creek coal plant is located near the community inStokes County, N.C. Belews Creek also is one of several coal ash sites thatreceived notices of violationin March from the DEQ for unauthorized wastewater discharges from its basins.

Inaddition, as part of a settlement reached in September 2015 with the DEQ, DukeEnergy must acceleratethe clean-up of groundwater contamination at Belews Creek.

"TheMcCrory administration is a national leader in addressing the decades-old issueof coal ash and continues to set an example for the federal government andother states on this issue," Reeder said in a news release. "TheMcCrory administration will go beyond federal and state requirements to protectminority communities from negative impacts when evaluating Duke Energy'sapplications to store coal ash in a new landfill."

TheDEQ said it will ask the U.S. EPA's Office of Civil Rights, the U.S. Commissionon Civil Rights and the North Carolina Advisory Committee to review and approveits environmental justice analysis before a permit is issued. "Theadditional review by outside groups with expertise in environmental justiceissues will help ensure Duke Energy's construction of a landfill will not havean adverse disparate impact on a minority or low income community protected byTitle VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," the DEQ said.

TheCommission on Civil Rights held abriefing in January that focused on coal ash storage and its impacton low-income and minority communities.

Inaddition, legislation introducedlast month in the U.S. House of Representatives would require the EPA to reviewregulations for coal ash disposal in municipal solid waste landfills overpublic health concerns.

TheEPA's coal ash rule,which was publishedin the Federal Register in April 2015, set standards for how companies maydispose of the residuals from burning coal. The final rule does not regulatecoal ash from power plants as hazardous waste, but it sets requirements forcoal ash sites at active power plants, including monitoring groundwater,keeping waste sites away from water bodies, and mandating new reporting fromutilities.

NorthCarolina passed its own lawin September 2014 that requires all of Duke Energy's coal ash impoundments tobe closed before the end of 2029. The options for closure range from coveringthe ash, placing it into a lined landfill on site, or removing the ash andtransporting it to a properly lined off-site landfill. All of the basins,however, must be dewatered.