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Feds expanding coal ash probe

Posted February 19

— The federal inquiry into a spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River is expanding to other similar ponds throughout the state and to specific state employees, according to federal subpoenas obtained by WRAL News through a public records request.

One subpoena asks for documents that relates to the company's regulation of 13 other coal ash ponds throughout the state that were not part of the Feb. 2 spill but have been the subject of litigation.

On Feb. 2, a retired Duke Energy power generation plant spilled tons of toxic sludge into the Dan River. The slurry contained the material left over after coal was burned to turn steam turbines. It contains arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals.

Named in the subpoena

NamePosition
Sergei ChernikovEngineer, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting
Matt MathewsDivision of Water Quality, section chief for surface water protection
Corey BasingerDivision of Water Quality, Winston-Salem supervisor
Debra WattsSupervisor, ground water protection unit, Division of Water Quality
Sherri KnightEnvironmental supervisor, Division of Water Quality, aquifer protection
Michael ParkerDivision of Water Quality, water protection supervisor, Mooresville regional office
Andrew PitnerDivision of Water Quality, aquifer protection supervisor, Mooresville regional office
Chuck CranfordDivision of Water Quality, regional office supervisor Asheville
Landon DavidsonDivision of Water Quality, regional supervisor, aquifer protection, Asheville
Jim GregsonDivision of Water Quality, surface water protection supervisor, Wilmington
Morella Sanchez KingDivision of Water Quality, Wilimgton
Belinda HensonDivision of Water Quality, regional supervisor, Fayetteville
Stephen Art Barnhardt Regional Supervisor, aquifer protection, Fayetteville
Danny SmithRegional supervisor, surface water, Raleigh
Chuck WakildRetired, former director of the Division of Water Resources
Colleen SullinsFormer environmental program manager.
David MayDivision of Water Quality, regional supervisor, aquifer protection, Washington
Rick BolichRegional aquifer protection supervisor, Raleigh

Federal prosecutors asked for documents related to that spill last week. The new documents released Wednesday expand the probe to all of Duke's coal ash ponds in North Carolina.

In a separate subpoena also released by the state Wednesday, federal prosecutors ask for information related to certain Department of Environment and Natural Resources employees. Among the information those employees are commanded to produce are "All documents related to payments ... received by you from any of the Relevant Parties" and "All documents relating to receipt of an item of value received by you from any of the Relevant Parties." The relevant parties include Duke Energy and the company once known as Progress Energy, which Duke acquired two years ago.

Those same subpoenas ask for payments those individuals may have made to Duke Energy, as well as records of the employees' communications with the company.

Those subpoenaed are scattered throughout DENR, but each appears to have some role in protecting water from pollution or regulating the specific site that spilled on Feb. 2. For example, Debra Watts is listed as the branch supervisor of the groundwater protection branch. Sherri Knight, aquifer protection supervisor, and Corey Basinger, surface water protection supervisor, both work in DENR's Winston-Salem office, which was responsible for responding to the Dan River spill.

A third element to the subpoena asks for "all personnel records" for a group of 20 current and former DENR employees, including Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources, and Charles "Chuck" Wakild, who used to have that post.

Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the state couldn't comment on either subpoena beyond saying, "The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will cooperate in this matter."

During a news conference Wednesday, Elliot and DENR Sec. John Skvarla declined to say whether the federal government had issued any other subpoenas to the agency. Later in the day, Elliot said that all subpoenas issued to DENR had been made public. 

A spokesman for Gov. Pat McCrory told WRAL today that neither McCrory nor anyone else in his office has received a similar subpoena. 

Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy, confirmed that his company had also gotten a second set of subpoenas from federal prosecutors but declined to characterize what information they sought. 

Late in the day, Amy Adams, a former DENR employee, said through a news release that she has also been subpoenaed by the federal government.

Adams is the N.C. Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, an environmental advocacy group. While she has been told she has been subpoenaed, Adams said she has not yet received the demand for information from prosecutors.

"The subpoena is in regards to Amy's tenure at DENR, where she worked from 2004 until 2013, most recently as regional supervisor for the Washington, N.C., office. She left DENR last summer to join Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit grassroots and advocacy conservation organization," according to the news release.

Adams is quoted as saying, "I'm glad the U.S. Attorney's office is casting a wide net in this investigation to ensure the citizens of North Carolina and Virginia learn the truth about this coal ash disaster. I'm glad to help in whatever way I can to bring out the truth, and I look forward to speaking with the federal investigators."

43 Comments

This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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  • ALECarolina Feb 20, 12:30 p.m.

    Hilarious......the Feds are "expanding the probe", so the NCGOP gets to experience some of their own "ultrasound" medicine.

    Hope it's COLD too!

  • ctaylor22 Feb 20, 6:43 a.m.

    This has everything to do with fracking. This DENR that failed to properly regulate Duke Energy... View More

    — Posted by downtowner

    There is no evidence that DENR has failed to regulate Duke Power. This is SOP for the feds when a large magnitude event happens.

  • westernwake1 Feb 19, 5:11 p.m.

    "NC water - not as bad as Sochi."

    Not yet. Wait until fracking gets into full swing. I'm sure... View More

    — Posted by AtALost

    Fracking has been used for decades in over a million wells with no ill effect on drinking water.... View More

    — Posted by Wood Chipper

    Cracking using a toxic chemical mix for natural gas has only been in existence for a decade.
    View More

    — Posted by westernwake1

    FRACKING uses chemicals mixed with water and has been in use since at least 1947. The original... View More

    — Posted by Wood Chipper

    This was due to auto spell correct on a mobile device. BTW oil wells very rarely used napalm for fracking was between 1947 and 1949 (which did not help increase production much) until Halliburton came up with a better process in 1949 involving a no toxic mix that was widely used.

    This process involved oil wells using water, gelled crude oil, or gelled kerosene and 400 lbm of sand per oil well since the 1950s.

    And yes, I do know what I am talking about. Anyone claiming that naplam was widely used for fracking does not. Anyone trying to claim that much less harmful chemicals are used in fracking today obviously does not know what they are talking about.

  • downtowner Feb 19, 4:34 p.m.

    This has everything to do with fracking. This DENR that failed to properly regulate Duke Energy is the same DENR administration that is going to fail to regulate fracking companies in a couple years. Why? Because there are in the pockets of big energy and corporate interests. End result is exactly the same, our water system is compromised and the taxpayers have to foot the bill.

  • A person Feb 19, 4:33 p.m.

    "NC water - not as bad as Sochi."

    Not yet. Wait until fracking gets into full swing. I'm sure... View More

    — Posted by AtALost

    Fracking has been used for decades in over a million wells with no ill effect on drinking water.... View More

    — Posted by Wood Chipper

    Cracking using a toxic chemical mix for natural gas has only been in existence for a decade.
    View More

    — Posted by westernwake1

    Actually the water in Sochi is very good, unless you are talking about the pictures taken immediately after the water main broke and it was repaired. I guess you have never had a water line break. Also, the athletes are saying the games in Russia have been the best ever.

  • westernwake1 Feb 19, 4:31 p.m.

    "NC water - not as bad as Sochi."

    Not yet. Wait until fracking gets into full swing. I'm sure... View More

    — Posted by AtALost

    Fracking has been used for decades in over a million wells with no ill effect on drinking water.... View More

    — Posted by Wood Chipper

    Cracking using a toxic chemical mix for natural gas has only been in existence for a decade.
    View More

    — Posted by westernwake1

    I believe Cracking is a process after the product has been extracted, not the extraction... View More

    — Posted by GOPtakersSociety

    This was entered via mobile device earlier and spell-corrected itself.

    The word at the start of the sentence about oil should be "Fracking". The Fracking used for the last decade involving toxic chemicals for gas is very different than the fracking that has been used in oil wells (involving water, gelled crude oil, or gelled kerosene and 400 lbm of sand per oil well) for over 50 years.

    The new golden age of Fracking involving toxic chemicals began in 2003 in terms of the start of wide-spread use.

  • Wood Chipper Feb 19, 4:30 p.m.

    "NC water - not as bad as Sochi."

    Not yet. Wait until fracking gets into full swing. I'm sure... View More

    — Posted by AtALost

    Fracking has been used for decades in over a million wells with no ill effect on drinking water.... View More

    — Posted by Wood Chipper

    Cracking using a toxic chemical mix for natural gas has only been in existence for a decade.
    View More

    — Posted by westernwake1

    FRACKING uses chemicals mixed with water and has been in use since at least 1947. The original fracking agent was Napalm. Much less harmful materials are used today in about a 99 to 1 ratio of water vs: agent.

    CRACKING is a thermal process to extract gasoline from oil. It's done at the refinery and has been used since at least the 1950's.

    You have no idea what you're talking about.

  • GOPtakersSociety Feb 19, 3:42 p.m.

    a brief history
    "in 2010, Duke Energy's spending on lobbying against coal ash regulation spikes, according to OpenSecrets.org.

    •In 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientists categorizes the Catawba River as "stressed," specifically because of the energy industry's usage of the river's waters.


    •In 2012, the Catawba Riverkeeper notices that Riverbend's coal ash ponds are leaking where they shouldn't be, Duke University releases a report stating that the coal ash ponds are, in fact, polluting North Carolina waterways with "arsenic, selenium and other toxic elements," and the state decides that it doesn't see any need to clean up coal ash impoundments.

    •In 2013, Duke Energy announces it will close its Riverbend coal plant on April Fool's Day, and it isn't joking. It also discusses plans it and the state are working on to close the coal ash ponds, though the state later admits that it isn't doing anything about coal ash.

    •Also this year, the N.C. General Assembly decides it shoul

  • GOPtakersSociety Feb 19, 3:34 p.m.

    "NC water - not as bad as Sochi."

    Not yet. Wait until fracking gets into full swing. I'm sure... View More

    — Posted by AtALost

    Fracking has been used for decades in over a million wells with no ill effect on drinking water.... View More

    — Posted by Wood Chipper

    Cracking using a toxic chemical mix for natural gas has only been in existence for a decade.
    View More

    — Posted by westernwake1

    I believe Cracking is a process after the product has been extracted, not the extraction process itself, "Cracking" is generally used to break down Molecules or in refineries make gasoline... I may be wrong but google is my friend

  • GOPtakersSociety Feb 19, 3:30 p.m.

    Hey Feds, might want to check the books as well, maybe check the merger, and while your at it all the NCGA that are on the take with Duke

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