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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Duke Energy says digging up all the coal ash at its 33 sites around North Carolina and trucking it into lined landfills could triple the costs to $10 billion, but environmentalists say it s a case of pay-now-or-pay-later. Duke s president for North Carolina Paul Newton told lawmakers in a Raleigh hearing today, If you dig it all up that adds another four to five billion dollars.

But the Southern Environmental Law Center has produced old U.S. Geological Survey maps showing streams running through many coal ash ponds to make the case that a cap in place plan would lead to continued groundwater pollution.

And what s the cost of having constant toxic pollution of our waterways over time? questioned SELC attorney Frank Holleman.

Duke says it will study each site to develop a plan for disposing of coal ash particular to the site. That could take a year or more.

So we don t have a bias toward (cap in place) other than it saves money, Duke Energy s Paul Newton told lawmakers. It s a factor but if it s not suitable we wouldn t recommend cap in place.

Environmentalists advocate Duke drying out all its coal ash ponds and digging up the waste for storage in lined landfills or sealed for use as fill dirt at construction sites like Charlotte Douglas Airport known as structured fill.

Duke is already using coal ash from its Asheville coal-fired plant as structured fill at the airport there.

Environmentalists say underground streams and groundwater migration could widely expand the plume of pollution from heavy metals in coal ash if it is simply capped in place in unlined pits.

There will be erosion, continued leaching of the contaminants into the river and the risk of catastrophic failure, said Holleman.

Duke has already agreed to move coal ash from high priority sites including Asheville, the Dan River site of this year s massive coal ash spill, and the Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County on the banks of Mountain Island Lake.

Newton told lawmakers it could take more than a year to study Riverbend and four to four-and-a-half years to dig out and move the millions of tons of coal ash from the site.

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