By Emery Dalesio, AP Business Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. — The country's largest electric company is not providing online access to federally mandated maps showing the scope of disaster resulting if a coal-ash pit burst and spilled its toxic muck onto neighboring properties, two environmental law groups said Wednesday.
Advocacy groups Southern Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice said they are planning a federal lawsuit to force Duke Energy Corp. to disclose the information withheld for more than a dozen Duke Energy sites in Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.
The Charlotte-based company is the only electric utility in the country not providing the dam safety information, the groups said. A spot check by The Associated Press found the Tennessee Valley Authority, Alabama Power, Louisville Gas & Electric and Ohio-based American Electric Power among those posting the maps required by a two-year-old U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule.
Duke Energy was required to make public its emergency action plans for each of its coal ash storage sites with a significant risk of serious harm if retention walls failed, the groups said.
"Communities near these coal dumps have a right to know what dangers they are facing," Earthjustice attorney Jenny Cassel said in a statement. "They need to know: If the dam holding this toxic waste breaks, which neighborhoods are going to be flooded? Which waterways? Who can they call to provide emergency response?"
Asked why Duke Energy was withholding the maps, spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the company "believed we were complying with state law that protects information related to critical infrastructure." She did not specify which laws in which states were involved, or clarify how state laws that allow company information to be withheld for security reasons also covered the federal disclosure regulation.
"We'll review what other utilities are posting and gather additional input from state regulators as we consider if we need to adjust," Culbert wrote in an email. "Very importantly, we want our communities to rest assured that public safety and safe operations are our highest priorities."
The EPA's coal-ash rules, including emergency planning requirements for retention pits, were developed after a 2008 spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Kingston, Tennessee. A containment dike burst and the resulting flood coated more than 300 acres and dumped waste into two nearby rivers.
Since then, the EPA documented coal ash waste sites tainting hundreds of waterways and underground aquifers in numerous states with heavy metals and other toxic contaminants. Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity.
Three years ago, a drainage pipe running below a waste dump collapsed at a Duke Energy plant in Eden, North Carolina. The estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash spewed into the Dan River and coated the waterway for more than 70 miles.
The 2015 EPA rules apply to new and existing coal-ash landfills or impoundments, and require electric companies to maintain a public website with access to compliance information.
"These requirements help ensure transparency and offer the public access to information about our" coal-ash sites, Duke Energy's web site states.