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Despite federal delays, DEQ determined to continue progress in cleaning up coal ash

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 12:00am

Yesterday, DEQ Assistant Secretary for the Environment Tom Reeder addressed the State Legislature’s Environmental Review Commission to update legislators on the status of coal ash cleanup in North Carolina. Waiting for the federal government to approve permits has greatly slowed the state’s ability to clean up coal ash.

For more than a year, DEQ has continued to seek federal approval for conditions of the state’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The NPDES permits are necessary for Duke Energy to begin excavating coal ash ponds.

DEQ is committed to upholding the Clean Water Act and will only issue permits consistent with the law. When given a permit to review, the EPA may offer comments, object to or remain silent on the permit. DEQ may issue a permit if EPA does not object. As a courtesy, in recent years DEQ has waited for explicit EPA approval before issuing coal ash permits despite it not being required by law. Assistant Secretary Reeder noted in his presentation that DEQ is considering no longer providing that courtesy.

The EPA is struggling with how to handle these types of permits because they are the first of their kind in the nation, which has caused long delays in the permitting process. If DEQ is faced with a choice between protecting the environment or the federal bureaucracy, protecting the environment will win every time.