DENR plans to abandon Duke Energy settlement

Posted March 21, 2014

— North Carolina regulators say they will withdraw from an controversial agreement that would have settled a set of lawsuits over toxins illegally leaking from coal ash ponds maintained near Duke Energy power plants. 

Last month, officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told the court that they were considering expanding the settlement from the three ash ponds that it had covered to all 14 locations where Duke stores coal ash in ponds. 

That settlement came in for criticism from environmental groups following a Feb. 2 coal ash spill from a now-shuttered power plant on the Dan River. The spill has coated 70 miles of riverbed with 30,000 to 40,000 tons of toxin-laced ash, according to the Duke and observations the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

DENR officials proposed a settlement that included a $99,000 fine for pollution at steam stations near Asheville and Charlotte. Expanding the settlement would have ended a package of legal challenges. Environmental advocates said that fine was insufficient punishment for a company worth some $50 billion, and they complained that the settlement didn't require Duke to dispose of the ash.

Now those legal actions will proceed. 

"We intend for our lawsuits against Duke Energy to move forward," DENR Secretary John Skvarla said in a statement. "We will continue to hold the utility accountable for the clean-up of its coal ash impoundments through the lawsuits, the reopening of the permits and our ongoing investigation."

Legally, DENR must ask the court's permission to withdraw from the agreement. 

A DENR spokesman said Friday that the move to withdraw from the agreement was prompted by another court ruling this month ordering Duke to quickly stop toxins from leaking out of coal ash ponds across the state. Earlier this week, Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway refused to stay that order until it could be appealed.

"In view of the court’s order, DENR believes the best course of action at this time is to withdraw its support for the current consent order," said a news release from the agency.

“Duke Energy is reviewing NC-DENR’s announcement," said David Scanzoni, a spokesman for the company.

The move drew cheers from environmental groups, who have been pushing both the state and Duke to do more to clean up the ponds. 

"Hopefully, DENR will now join with us in enforcing the law," said Frank Holleman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

In January 2013, the center gave the state notice that it would sue to enforce clean water violations under federal law. Instead of allowing that suit to go forward, DENR stepped in to bring suit themselves.

That prompted SELC and other environmental groups to cry foul. Holleman said DENR had crafted "a weak and ineffective" settlement that neither punished the company or aggressively pushed for cleanup.


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  • rduwxboy Mar 24, 2014

    Folks this is only the beginning. Toxic dumps are coming to Eastern North Carolina from Northeastern states now that the legislature has allowed - except for ironically, Beaufort County - whose rep wrote the bill.

  • sammy750 Mar 21, 2014

    Every day Duke Energy is pumping coal ash into the waterways. They are using big pumps to accomplish this. Duke Energy, Gov. McCrary and the Republicans are thumbing their noises at the Fed Govt Env. Groups. Videos are being taken, so the evidence is their to send them to prison. They are NOT halting the contamination of the water on this very day. The NC Governor sold out to Duke Energy as well as his administration. In time they will pay for this.

  • ncstatefan13 Mar 21, 2014

    Now just force the cleanup to be paid for by a percentage of company profits over time instead of rate hikes...

  • emaleth Mar 21, 2014

    View quoted thread

    You said it!

  • Kimberly Rabbeni Mar 21, 2014
    user avatar

    Duke already said they would be passing the cost of the fine onto customers.

    So glad to see this has been reversed. Not only does Duke need to pay a fine, but they need to be held accountable for doing business but not following the regulations. The spill may have been an accident, but that's why there are regulations. I'm sorry if it effects the dividends or stock price, but is Duke management's fault not their customers.

    Moral of the story: if you do things right the first time you won't have to do it over again and it always costs more to go back and fix things than to do it right the first time.

  • Paul Edwards Mar 21, 2014
    user avatar

    Those coal ash ponds are a byproduct of producing electricity. I agree the rate-payers will end up paying for their removal. It would be part of the cost of energy production. I have stock in Duke Energy but I also have my wallet out for an increase in rates.

  • lewiskr45 Mar 21, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Wait until they finish all the legislation, will probably drop more.

  • whatelseisnew Mar 21, 2014

    Well I agree Duke needs to cleanup all of these sites. However, anyone that thinks eventually the cost will not go to the rate payers is simply dreaming. Hmmm maybe I will check out how bad Duke's stock got hammered. Might be a buying opportunity.