Column: Coal ash spill should bother us all

Feb. 24, 2014 @ 08:34 AM

Like many other North Carolinians concerned about our environment, I have been watching the news of the Dan River with great interest.

Environmental tourism is a large contributor to the economic vitality of our state, whether it’s the mountains, the beaches or our many winding rivers. People choose to visit here and live here because of the beauty of our state, and all of our companies need to be outstanding stewards and protect our resources.

The environmental mess that is the Dan River should be worrisome to all of us. It’s estimated that over 82,000 tons of coal ash, the spent waste from burning coal for energy, spilled by Duke Energy is currently polluting the river. And while not all the test results are in, one should remember that coal ash contains a combination of lead, arsenic, mercury and radioactive uranium. I don’t know about you but I would not be trusting the water in the Dan River any time soon.

And let us not forget Duke has another 13 unlined ash ponds at its power plants that have the potential to become serious problems.

And who’s going to clean up this mess? Many are demanding tougher penalties and more stringent laws, while others do want to do anything that might penalize the business interests of any company in North Carolina.

During the past week I heard a Duke official say the company would handle the problem but not to forget that ultimately the customers would pay. I say maybe Duke Energy as an entity bears a greater responsibility that should not become a burden of its customers. Maybe executives can consider using some of the company’s profits -- $2.7 billion for 2013, attributed in part to rate increases and lower maintenance costs. Interesting, as I think it indicates the customer has already paid.