Emails: NC regulators knew for years Duke power plants lacked permits

Posted March 4, 2014

— State environmental regulators have known for about five years that some coal-fired power plants in North Carolina didn't have required permits to discharge stormwater into nearby lakes and rivers, according to internal emails.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources last week issued notices of violation against six Duke Energy power plants, charging that the utility never obtained stormwater permits for them and threatening $25,000-a-day fines.

DENR said a Feb. 2 spill of nearly 40,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River from a shuttered Duke plant in Eden prompted a review of all environmental permits there and at Duke's 13 other current or retired coal-fired plants statewide.

More than 400 pages of emails obtained by the Southern Environment Law Center as part of the group's legal efforts to shut down the coal ash ponds show that DENR has been studying the permit issue since a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in late 2008.

DENR logo, Department of Environment and Natural Resources DENR emails on power plant stormwater permits

Regulators even created a color-coded spreadsheet of North Carolina power plants to determine which ones needed permits and which didn't.

By 2011, emails show, state tests found mercury in runoff from coal ash in Lumberton and bromide in coal ash runoff near Eden, and DENR officials asked the Duke and Raleigh-based Progress Energy, which Duke acquired in 2012, obtain stormwater permits for their plants.

The two utilities pushed back against the demand.

"Why we would do this when we are looking for a kinder gentler regulatory framework according to the Governor?" Duke environmental and legislative director George Everett asked in a July 20, 2011, email, referring to then-Gov. Beverly Perdue.

DENR regulators held their own against the utilities until early 2012, when Republican lawmakers cut the agency's budget. That's when the permitting process ground to a halt, according to emails from DENR environmental engineer Bethany Georgoulis.

"We were told to wait to do anything with those 'new' draft permits until Matt (Matthews) could speak with George (Everett) again. To our knowledge, Matt and George could never get a hold of one another," Georgoulis wrote on Sept. 12, 2013.

"Over the last year and a half, we repeatedly asked for a status and direction on these (permits), and we have been given none," she wrote. "We stopped asking."

DENR spokesman Drew Elliott couldn't explain Tuesday why Matthews, the agency's surface water protection section chief, was unable to reach Duke's environmental director for a year and a half.

"While our focus is on how to protect the environment and public health going forward, we will continue to look into decisions made under previous administrations," Elliott said in an email to WRAL News.


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  • rowdya Mar 6, 2014

    View quoted thread

    McCrory left to deal with the mess created by others you say?!?!? Ha!!! If anything, Gov McCrony (R - ex-Duke exec and current Duke shareholder) has DOUBLED DOWN on relaxing regulatory requirements with Duke, seeing that his appointee to run DENR, John Skvarla (who happens to own an environmental restoration biz), has blocked lawsuits by environmentalists on THREE occasions that would have forced Duke to clean up their mess.

    Bottom line, Duke has been buying off politicians from BOTH sides of the aisle for many years so if you want to dish out blame, do it properly as in Dems, Republicans and especially Duke Energy. Or continue to believe what the Regressive Media instructs you to believe in that McCrory administration is innocent and Bev and the Dems are fully to blame. SMH...

  • Rebelyell55 Mar 6, 2014

    unc70 Mar 5, 10:54 a.m.
    .........The letters I was referring to are the ones DENR sent to Duke, it appears to be the only action taken to date along with new inspection just recently. No more word on the "plan" that the gov. has asked for. One last note, it appears that the "investigation" done by WRAL on the bills some has gotten from Duke over the deposit they added has gotten side tracked or lost. This too should of been presented to the Utility com. and at lease a comment from them.

  • dwr1964 Mar 5, 2014

    Why are you people surprised? Corporate America does not care about you, me or the other guy. These coal ash ponds alone, could kill every waterway, in out state, and then some. Duke does not care. They have never cared. They pay politicians to not care. They pay DENR agents to not care. It is more cost effective, to line pockets, than it is to do the right thing. This is corporate America.

  • whatelseisnew Mar 5, 2014

    I keep saying Government and regulations do nothing. Yet people keep insisting regulate regulate regulate. It is rather like the borders. We have laws and we have regulations, but all too often GOVERNMENT regardless of who controls it, ignores both. I trust NO government entity, none of them and in particular the Government run school system which is doing enormous damage to this State and this nation.

  • 1jalapeno Mar 5, 2014

    Man, I wish I had faith in our state agencies to do the right thing and watch out for the interests of ALL citizens of North Carolina. Seems like incompetent or corrupt behavior just crops up time after time. Can't we fire those responsible and put some of the corrupt actors in prison?

  • Rob Schofield Mar 5, 2014

    This is an important story. While previous administrations deserve plenty of blame, the McCrory/Skvarla team has clearly doubled-down on coddling polluters. It's tragic that it took such a catastrophe as the Dan River spill to shine a light on this fact.
    The question is: Will they change their behavior and admit the folly of tearing down DENR or simply slap a few bandages on the problem? As last Saturday's powerful article in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/01/us/coal-ash-spill-reveals-transformation-of-north-carolina-agency.html?hp&_r=1 makes pretty clear, the latter scenario is, sadly, far more likely.

  • Danny22 Mar 5, 2014

    you mean Bev let this go on for all her yrs. LOL.

  • ncprr1 Mar 5, 2014

    View quoted thread

    The article is actually about state regulators knowing for years about the lack of permits. It is not about the McCrory administration, who is now left to deal with the mess created by others. The reason that your electric bill has tripled is because of the regulators. Which way to you want it, more regulations or less cost?

  • Jack Jones Mar 5, 2014
    user avatar

    Fracking is the NEXT environmental disaster. North Carolina will suffer greatly from ignoring safety related regulations.

  • Mary Needham Mar 5, 2014
    user avatar

    McRory won't do a thing to these crooks since he worked there and owns stock. He's just as bad as they are. Duke will over charge thousands of "customers" (victims) to pay for this mess. I am one such victim. They raised my electric bill nearly triple. We are being robbed by these crooks and I for one won't have it.