COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Duke Energy officials assured South Carolina regulators that the utility's two coal ash ponds in the state are safe in part because they are designed differently from a pond in North Carolina that dumped millions of gallons of contaminated water into a river.
But an environmental lawyer told the Public Service Commission on Monday that there are plenty of other ways the primitive structures can fail and send millions of gallons of ash-polluted water into nearby streams and rivers or allow contamination to seep into groundwater.
Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Frank Holleman urged Duke Energy to join South Carolina's other two utilities which have agreed to close the ponds and move the ash to safer storage in the next decade.
Regulators can review Duke Energy's electric rates and operations in South Carolina, but there doesn't appear to be much they could do about the utility's plans for its coal ash ponds. Duke asked for the hearing so it could keep the commission informed. The law center asked for a chance to respond to give its version.
Duke Energy has only two coal ash ponds in South Carolina. One is in Anderson County at a power plant is set to convert to natural gas within year. The second is at an already closed power plant in Darlington County where the pond has dried up, said Mike Ruhe, director of environmental affairs in South Carolina for the Charlotte, N.C., utility.
Neither pond has storm water pipes running under them and they will be thoroughly checked to make sure they are safe, according to the utility. A break in a storm water pipe caused the massive leak into the Dan River near Eden. N.C., last month. The toxic sludge containing arsenic, selenium, lead and other contaminants coated 70 miles of the river.
"We have looked at all the drawings to verify that there are no pipes or anything like that like we had at Dan River," Ruhe said. "We are looking to close both of those ponds as soon as possible."
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