Coal ash currently poses a significant threat to many regions of the United States, and the Catawba River is affected disproportionately by coal ash pollution, both because of the large number of coal plants along the banks and the lack of regulation at both state and federal levels on discharge. As mentioned earlier, these ponds can discharge many carcinogens, such as arsenic and selenium, at concentrations that exceed the EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels for drinking water. This discharge can affect not only the people who live in the basin but also the ecosystem of the surrounding region.
First of all, though Duke has agreed to close down all ash basins by December 2029 (Ash Management & Safe Basin Closure), they need to be held accountable for their promise. Even though the EPA has established regulations of coal ash discharge under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the facilities are required to self-implement regulation policies since the EPA has no formal role in the implementation and enforcement of these requirements. Thus, we recommend that state governments take on the role of enforcement to help Duke Energy comply with the regulations. The EPA actually suggests that state governments incorporate the federal regulations on coal ash discharge into state law so that they can be enforced by the state (Frequent Questions about the Coal Ash Disposal Rule).
Second, we want to require Duke Energy to increase recycling of coal ash. In 2013, Duke Energy produced about 1.8 million tons of coal ash in North Carolina, but only 67% of this has been recycled (Coal Ash in North Carolina, 2014). Reusing coal ash can minimize use of virgin resources or resources extracted from nature in their raw form, lower greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, reduce cost of coal ash disposal, and improve strength and durability of cement that is mixed with coal ash. Thus, we propose that Duke Energy increases its beneficial use of coal ash. Since beneficial use is only regulated by the state, we believe that it is important for both the federal and state governments to establish stricter regulation on beneficial use of coal ash. Some of the supposedly recycled coal ash is simply dumped into abandoned mines or quarries, and that the contradicts the purpose of recycling ash ponds (House Bill 5953, n.d.).
Finally, Duke Energy should explore more methods to recycle ash produced at operating coal plants. While there is currently not much research on this topic, Duke’s plan to close down all ash ponds in 2029 should include looking into methods to recycle onsite coal ash, as this can reduce transportation cost and possibly water contamination.