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JUDGE REVOKES PERMITS FOR CHATHAM AND LEE COUNTY COAL ASH LANDFILLS
Rules that the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Exceeded Their Authority and Failed to use Proper Procedure
Raleigh- On Friday December 13, 2019, Administrative Law Judge Melissa Owens-Lassiter revoked the permits for both the Chatham and Lee County coal ash landfills. The case was remanded to the Office of Administrative Hearings by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2018. Judge Lassiter initially heard the case in December 2015.
The original lawsuit was brought in 2015 by Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Chatham Citizens Against Coal ash Dump (CCACAD), and EnvironmentaLEE (ELEE) in response to permits issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to Green Meadow, a subsidiary of Charah, Inc. in June of that year. The permits allowed Duke Energy's coal ash to be used as "mine reclamation"- even though most of the sites had never been mined. The permits were issued in less than 7 months.
Lassiter found that: "Petitioners established by a preponderance of the evidence that [DEQ] substantially prejudiced Petitioners' rights, and exceeded their authority or jurisdiction, acted erroneously, failed to use proper procedure by issuing a structural fill permit to Charah, Inc. and Green Meadow, LLC for both the Colon and Brickhaven Mine sites to the extent the two sites had never been mined or otherwise excavated." And, ... the "affected land" at both Mine sites was not a "reasonable rehabilitation of the affected land for useful purposes."
CCACAD President Judy Hogan was pleased with the Judge's ruling saying, "We are delighted and gratified that the Judge ruled as did Judge Fox of the Superior Court in 2017, that Charah could not dig for the purpose of putting in coal ash. This decision of Judge Lassiter is such a relief, such a joy." Debbie Hall of ELEE expressed similar feelings, "We are grateful that all our hard work and prayers have been answered. People kept saying it was a done deal, but we carried on and fought hard. "
BREDL organizer Therese Vick praised the decision and admonished the agency for issuing the permits. "DEQ knew what they did was wrong, yet they kept trying to defend the indefensible. No community should ever have to go through this again."
In June of 2019, DEQ issued a letter to Charah regarding groundwater contamination at the Brickhaven coal ash landfill, in Chatham County. The lined landfill, filled with millions of tons of Duke Energy's coal ash, was permitted in fewer than 7 months, and is less than 4 years old. DEQ's letter mirrors concerns that Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and the community have had for months. BREDL community organizer Therese Vick said, "The unsuitability of the site, the rush to permit, and the inevitability of landfill failure were a recipe for disaster."
BREDL's position on coal ash disposal is that it should be stored above ground, isolated from the environment, on utility company land.
View Judge's Decision