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Duke Energy vows to continue coal ash excavation appeal

Duke Energy Corp. on Aug. 2 vowed to continue its appeal of an order that would require the company to excavate all of its North Carolina coal ash sites after an administrative law judge sided with state environmental regulators.

A hearing officer in the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings on Aug. 2 ruled that the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality had the legal authority to select the method of closure for ash basins owned by Duke Energy Carolinas LLC and Duke Energy Progress LLC.

The North Carolina DEQ in an April 1 order said Duke Energy must excavate coal ash impoundments at its Belews Creek, G.G. Allen, Marshall, Mayo, Roxboro and James E. Rogers Energy Complex (Cliffside) power plants and place the coal combustion residuals in new or existing lined landfills.

The company asked the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings to "vacate the determination and order in its entirety." The judge, however, dismissed several of the company's claims including its argument that the DEQ erred in electing the method of closure for nine ash basins.

"While we are disappointed in the ruling on this issue, we will proceed with the appeal, standing firm in our belief that the [North Carolina DEQ] decision is wrong, not based in science and engineering — and not in the best interest of our customers and communities," Duke Energy said in an Aug. 2 news release. "The state's decision on basin closure mandates the most extreme option for the lowest-risk basins, ignoring information that clearly shows capping the ash in place would continue to fully protect people and the environment."

The company has warned that excavating the remaining basins "would take decades" and will add about $4 billion to $5 billion to the current $5.6 billion estimate for ash management in the Carolinas.

North Carolina DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said he is "very pleased" with the ruling.

"DEQ stands by its determination that the best way to protect public health, communities and the environment is to excavate coal ash impoundments across the state," Regan said in a written statement. "We will continue to defend that decision as this appeal moves forward."