GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) A settlement agreement between Duke Energy, the Southern Environmental Law Center and N.C. Department of Environmental Quality will result in a cleanup plan for six of Duke Energy’s coal ash sites in North Carolina.

The announcement came Thursday from the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Sound Rivers and several other organizations.

Approximately 80 million tons of coal ash will be excavated from the six sites.

It will be the largest coal ash cleanup in history.

According to Upper Neuse River Keeper Matthew Starr, a large amount of coal ash lies along the banks of our rivers in North Carolina.

“We know they pollute the environment, we know they cause degradation of water quality, we know they’re harmful to communities,” said Starr.

Coal ash is the leftover material from coal-fired power plants, like Duke Energy.

Starr says the agreement has been a long time coming.

“We as citizens, as river keepers, as environmental lawyers have to hold Duke Energy accountable,” said Starr. “And this was a real fight.”

“Duke Energy had to be made to want to clean up this coal ash.”

matthew starr

The cleanup will take years to complete, but once it’s done the state and its citizens will be better off.

“Their waterways, our rivers, our streams are going to be better protected and our communities are going to be better for it,” said Starr.

The coal ash will be recycled or repurposed into concrete and other things to keep it out of landfills.

In order for the cleanup to begin, permits must be issued for each cleanup site.