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Duke Energy’s coal ash conundrum and the need for a long-term solution

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Duke Energy’s proposed solution to its coal ash conundrum met with continued opposition this week as the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) released a report of its own dubbed “Coal Ash Disposition: The Alternative for North Carolina.” The report argues against the use of ‘landfilling’ coal ash while recommending “proven saltstone technology for the coal ash at Duke Energy's fourteen power plants.”

At present, Duke Energy plans to move coal ash from its retired electricity plants into lined and off-site landfills, a prospect that the BREDL says has a number of negative environmental downsides. According to the BREDL report, “Impartial experts agree that liner failure is inevitable, regardless of the liner type. That all liners will eventually fail is not in dispute. The only question is: How long will it take?”

Meanwhile, officials with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have responded that technologies for coal ash disposal and storage locations are being reviewed. DENR’s public information officer, Jamie Kritzer, stated “The [department], the EPA and Duke Energy are looking closely at all of the available technologies for coal ash disposal and the location of where the ash will be stored in the future.” Given the cozy relationship that has existed between Duke Energy and the DENR as well as the typical public interest impotence manifested by the Environmental Protection Agency, I shudder to think what ‘solution’ these organizations will come up with.

What should be clear to decision-makers and private citizens alike is that any solution that will be reached should not pass the problem on to future generations while current technologies allow for long-term coal ash containment solutions.

But clarity is in the eye of the beholder. While saltstone technology may seem like an obvious and well-studied solution to the problem of coal-ash containment, it doesn’t appear to be as obvious to Duke Energy or its government lackeys, which is why private citizen participation and oversight in this process is so important.

So if you have the time, research this issue and come to a conclusion for yourself. And while you’re at it, do what any good citizen of a well-established republic would do, give your elected representatives your respectful opinion on the subject!

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