Feds launch criminal probe into coal ash spill

Posted February 13, 2014

— The U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh has opened a criminal investigation into a coal ash spill that dumped thousands of gallons of toxic sludge into the Dan River from a pond near a shuttered Duke Energy power plant. 

A subpoena issued to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources orders representatives of the agency to deliver documents to a grand jury for up to three days starting March 18. WRAL News obtained copies of the subpoena through a public records request to DENR. 

Tom Williams, director of corporate media relations for Duke Energy, acknowledged Thursday that the company had also received a subpoena from the federal government.

"Duke Energy will continue to cooperate with any state or federal agency that would undertake and investigation," he said.

Williams declined to provide a copy of the document, saying that it was "confidential by its nature." Corporations like Duke are not subject to the same public records rules that govern state agencies.

In the subpoena issued to the state, the federal government is seeking evidence related to the Feb. 2 spill from a waste pond near a power plant in Rockingham County. Such ponds contain the material left over after coal is burned for power generation. The dust is stored in a slurry, and contains hazardous material like mercury, arsenic and heavy metals. State health officials issued two warnings Wednesday for people to avoid swimming and eating fish caught near the spill site.

The Dan River Steam Station, near Eden, no longer produces power for Duke Energy, but the company is still considering how to decommission the property. 

The subpoena to the state seeks copies of permits related to the plant, as well as "any and all emails, memoranda, letters, photographs, videos, reports, and any other documents or materials" since 2010 that speak to leaks or discharges from the pond. Prosecutors are also seeking documents and emails specifically related to the Feb. 2 spill.

The subpoena does not explicitly say who the target of the criminal probe might be, but it does seek records of communication between Duke Energy and the state during spill's immediate aftermath. 

"We will cooperate in the request," DENR spokesman Drew Elliot said.

Even before the spill, Duke, the state, and environmental groups had been involved in litigation over the Eden plant and 14 other current and closed coal ash sites throughout the state. Environmental groups say the ponds are a hazard because they slowly leach toxins into ground water and are a risk for catastrophic spills like the one in the Dan River. 


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  • Rebelyell55 Feb 17, 2014

    Dag nabit, more tax dollars being wasted after the fact. All because our state officals didn't do their jobs, that tax payers are paying for. The really sad part is they don't know who their "customer " are.

  • A person Feb 14, 2014

    Does anyone ever launch an investigation into what the feds are doing????

  • John Paul Bertke Feb 14, 2014
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    "State government leaders (both dems and repubs) are to blame." - bigoski

    To blame for what? We're talking about a coal ash spill and a federal investigation here, right?

  • John Paul Bertke Feb 14, 2014
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    "Guess what libs, this mess would not have occurred if Bev would have made Duke do something about this." - bigoski

    :-) So the neocon solution is to back a former Duke Energy executive turned Tea Party rubber stamp? Wow, THAT makes a lot of sense!

    Now, can we get back to the issue of culpability for environmental damage to the public water supply? Whether neocons like it or not, the federal government is coming to enforce the law.

    It looks as though we need to split every federal agency into two: One to enforce federal laws, and the other enforce federal laws specifically in North Carolina!

  • Jack Jones Feb 14, 2014
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    Republicans have controlled the NCGA since the 2010 elections. To paraphrase John Boehner, "Who's going to jail for this?"

  • Forthe Newssite Feb 14, 2014
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    " he,s the only one that has the right to test the water."

    WRONG!!! If you're drinking it you've got the right!

  • tiniabilljones Feb 13, 2014

    He should also look into their power plant in Rosewood, NC , just outside of Goldsboro,NC.Me my girlfriend & dog started getting sick about a year ago.The water started smelling funny.Contacted my water co.in Rosewood 3 times!,with no results.Finally started buying bottled water & the sickness ended.Told them I was going to have water tested, & person told not to do that , he,s the only one that has the right to test the water. Long story short ,I now have to pay an average bill of $27.00 or more &! buy bottled water to drink & give to my dog.Thats at least $3.00 a day x 30 days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thats what i,m paying for water a month. By the way that plant is right on the neuse river, where this side of Goldsboro gets its water

  • Wacky_dood Feb 13, 2014

    Given the backgrounds of our state leaders who are supposedly overseeing this, I think it's good the Feds are getting involved. I'd like to see what their take on this is.

  • rowdya Feb 13, 2014

    View quoted thread

    The feds are going after Duke Energy (and DENR) because of the massive coal ash spill which DENR allowed to happen, seeing that the two are obviously sleeping in the same bed that McCrory made. Not sure what Benghazi has to do with this NC investigation but I guess since Benghazi is still the hot fright-wing buzz term to throw around these days when one is devoid of facts, might as well use it here too....

  • Forthe Newssite Feb 13, 2014
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    Good!!! I don't really expect much to come of it, DE just seems to let stuff roll off their backs. Would love to see some charges brought and covering complete cost of clean up among other things. They need to know that they cannot operate with impunity