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Duke Energy challenges permit requirements; conservation groups ask to intervene

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Duke Energy challenges permit requirements; conservation groups ask to intervene

has challengedsome of the requirements and potential violations laid out in a permit issued byNorth Carolina environmental regulators that allows the utility to drain its coalash ponds at a retired power plant. Conservation groups, worried about the potentialto "weaken" the permit, have asked to intervene in the case.

The NorthCarolina Department of Environmental Quality on Feb. 12 issued a permit that allows the Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary to discharge wastewater fromthe basins at the Riverbend SteamStation in Gaston County into Mountain Island Lake, which connects tothe Catawba River.

The permitstates that the level of water in the ponds should not be lowered more than 1 footper week. It also adds "12 potentially contaminated groundwater seeps"to the allowable discharges at the Riverbend site. Duke Energy must monitor thegroundwater seeps and discharges from the basins and submit monthly discharge monitoringreports to environmental regulators.

DukeEnergy, however, said it is working with the DEQ to "clarify specific requirements"in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit for theRiverbend plant. The company submitted a petition for a contested case hearing March11 in the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings.

"Onespecific example we have issue with is assigning the company a permit violationfor certain exceedances without ever determining if the conditions were naturalor from Duke Energy operations," Duke Energy spokeswoman Catherine Butler saidMarch 29 in an email. "We're hopeful we can resolve any issues as we continueto work constructively with the regulator and are simply making this proceduralfiling as a necessary part of the process. In the meantime, we continue our workto close basins in ways that put safety first, protect the environment, minimizeimpact to the community and manage costs."

The SouthernEnvironmental Law Center on March 29 filed a motion on behalf of the Catawba RiverkeeperFoundation to intervene in the case. The SELC said its filing "seeks to preventDuke Energy and the state from entering another sweetheart deal on coal ash pollution,as they have tried to do repeatedly in recent years."

"DukeEnergy is seeking to weaken an important pollution control permit that is designedto protect the Charlotte area's drinking water supply reservoir," SELC seniorattorney Frank Holleman said in a news release. "With the drinking water ofalmost one million people at risk, citizens must have a seat at the table to ensureour drinking water sources are adequately protected."

Butlersaid Duke Energy agrees that "permits, combined with our safe operations, shouldinclude the necessary provisions to protect water quality, public health and theenvironment."

"This is another attempt by SELCto grandstand, so we're not surprised that they would want to intervene," shesaid. "It is important to note that they have already expressed support forthe way we're safely closing ash basins at Riverbend."