Environmental groups who have been doing battle with the state over coal ash storage in Lee and Chatham counties celebrated victory Friday after an administrative law judge revoked permits for landfills in both counties, ruling that the state Department of Environmental Quality exceeded their authority and failed to use proper procedure in issuing the permits.

A press release from the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) indicates that Judge Melissa Owens-Lassiter revoked the permits held by Green Meadow, LLC, a subsidiary of Charah, the company hired by Duke Energy in 2014 to dispose of coal ash at the two locations. Coal ash has since been delivered to Chatham County, but not Lee.

Charah said in September that it had no plans to bring any coal ash to Lee County.

The original lawsuit was brought in 2015 by BREDL, as well as Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump (CCACAD), and EnvironmentaLEE (ELEE), after Green Meadow received its permits. The permits allowed Duke Energy’s coal ash to be used as “mine reclamation,” even though most of the sites had never been mined.

“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,” said Debbie Hall of ELEE.

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,” she said.

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.

“The unsuitability of the site, the rush to permit, and the inevitability of landfill failure were a recipe for disaster,” Vick said.

BREDL’s position on coal ash disposal is that it should be stored above ground, isolated from the environment, on utility company land.

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