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Criminal probe set in Dan coal spill

SoVaNow.com / February 17, 2014
With this month’s coal ash spill on the Dan River, Duke Energy is coming under heavy pressure to clean up its remaining waste dumps in North Carolina — and in more bad news for the utility, Duke is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation that has been launched by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, N.C.

Duke and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) — the state agency that regulates the utility’s 31 coal ash dumps in North Carolina — each have received grand jury subpoenas for documents pertaining to “a suspected felony,” according to the wording of the subpoena served upon the state this week.

The Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the subpoena, reported that Duke Energy has received a similar order to produce company records and communications with the agency. The AP first reported the story on Thursday.

Officials both with Duke and DENR say they will cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s investigation.

While the subpoena does not provide detail on the alleged crime and who is being investigated, the broad nature of the request has led environmental groups to suspect that federal authorities may be probing a settlement struck between DENR and Duke Energy in the past year that critics have described as a sweetheart deal for the utility.

Environmental organizations have sued Duke three times under the federal Clean Water Act to compel the clean-up of leaky coal ash sites in North Carolina, but each time the state agency intervened at the last minute to assert its own enforcement powers under the Act, effectively blocking the citizen lawsuits.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, the group that sued Duke, produced evidence of groundwater contamination that state regulators have acknowledged as violations of the Clean Water Act, although DENR has not ordered Duke to actually fix the problems.

Instead, the agency and Duke reached a settlement that would have required Duke to pay fines of $99,111 for groundwater pollution at coal ash waste ponds near Asheville and Charlotte.

The agreement also would have required Duke to study ways to stop the contamination. However, the company — valued at $50 billion, making it the nation’s largest utility — would not have been required to undertake the expensive task of removing or sealing off the toxic wastes.

Many of the company’s coal ash dumps are located near waterways, and none include underground liners to prevent groundwater contamination.

In addition to the waste pond that ruptured at Duke’s retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., the company operates ash dumps at its two Person County, N.C. units, the Mayo Plant on U.S. 501 at the Halifax-Person county line, and the Roxboro Steam Plant near Semora, N.C., which ranks among the largest coal-fired projects in the U.S. Both power stations are built next to waterways that lie upstream from Halifax County.

In the aftermath of the Dan River spill, North Carolina has asked a judge to disregard its own agency’s proposed settlement with Duke. The action has done little to placate environmentalists who say DENR has gone easy on Duke, failing to act even in the face of clear evidence that coal ash was seeping into the Dan long before the massive Feb. 2 spill, as well as into other North Carolina rivers and lakes.

Meantime, Duke also is coming under fire in the North Carolina legislature, where two Republican lawmakers say they will introduce a bill to compel the utility to remove its coal ash dumps across the state.

State Senator Tom Apodaca, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, and House representative Chuck McGrady, vice chair of the Environmental Committee, say they want Duke to clean out all 31 sites and move coal ashes away from waterways.

The Mayo and Roxboro sites are among the Duke projects that would be affected by the legislation.

Both lawmakers hail from Henderson County, near Duke’s coal-fired plant on the French Broad River near Asheville. Groundwater samples have shown contamination at two large coal ash lagoons built at the site.

“We’ve got the Duke facility in Arden sitting up here with 91 acres of coal ash, and it has always bothered me,” Apodaca was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. “When I saw the Dan River thing, I said ‘We’ve got to do something.’ We’ve got to get a date certain. We can’t keep kicking this down the road.”

In response to the Dan River spill, Duke has said it will take action to close the waste lagoons at many of its 14 decommissioned coal plants in North Carolina, although it has not set a timetable for action nor specified how it plans to contain the wastes.

One option would be to cover the dumps with giant tarps to keep out rainwater — an option that environmentalists have criticized as inadequate. Duke has said it will consider full-scale removal of the wastes, which would be stored in lined landfills, among its alternatives.



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Comments

"a sweetheart deal for the utility" Of course they got sweetheart deals. Who are the major stockholders of utility companies and what positions do they hold in society? Men make billions while polluting waterways for hundreds of thousands of people and animals and get fined. Men get caught with a marijuana cigarette while polluting their own body and get jail.

Comments

What a waste of the taxpayers money. Lady Justice do you want your light bill/ power bill to go up? Guess that you probably get assistance from liberal government so you don't care. It was a 65 year old pipe it broke nothing criminal. You tree huggers crack me up.

Comments

If you think the first coal waste entered the river when it turned grey so everyone could see it then you are dangerously naïve. That argument is juvenile at best: If we don't want high electric bills the we have to tolerate mercury and heavy metals in our water. Keep drinking your fluoride water.

Comments

Both Mayo and Hyco lakes were built as cooling ponds and raw water sources for those powerplants and their primary function is supplying water for those plants. Watersports, recreation and high-dollar real estate are byproducts. Those plants are also held to high standards on their water quality, but they were old CP&L/ Progress Energy stations before Duke ever entered the picture.

AP is correct- costs of any mitigation will be passed on to Duke Emergy customers. TVA customers are paying about 70 cents in every bill to cover costs of the Kingston ash spill.

Comments

Well thank you. You just made the perfect argument for jail time. Money and fines obviously won't be effective. But if you put bars between those who were negligent and the money they love maybe next time that drain pipe is never installed or the waste is not stored on a river bank.

Comments

If you ultra liberals had any idea what was really dumped in the Dan, is guess you would really have a fit. You look over the obvious and focus on what the liberal media puts in front of your face. The liberals start off the same way everytime something happens. Lets try to shut down the power plants and raise energy costs. Yet they live in their energy consuming homes and drive their SUV's and all is well. It's the communist liberal way!!!!

Comments

Only a simple minded buffoon would assume a person expecting a billion dollar energy company to store its coal waste properly (as in not on a damn river bank) must support shutting down coal plants. Lets not put criminals in jail for committing criminal acts because they might get really mad and take it out on society when they get out of prison. Lets not make billion dollar energy companies store their waste safely because our bills might increase. Put the criminal bastards in jail and feed them a steady diet of fresh caught Dan River catfish and jugs of that safe drinking water from HCSA. Swallow your toothpaste, fluoride is good for you.


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