Raleigh, N.C. — A winter storm news conference Friday took a tense turn when reporters pushed Gov. Pat McCrory for details on his response to the recent Dan River coal ash spill.
The spill, which began Feb. 2 in Rockingham County, released at least 80,000 tons of toxic coal ash from a Duke Energy-owned retention pond into the Dan River, upstream of water intakes for several Virginia cities. It's estimated to be the third-largest coal ash spill in the nation's history.
The spill wasn't halted until a rusted drainage pipe was plugged five days later. On Thursday, state environmental officials announced the plug itself had leaked 1,000 gallons of wastewater into the river before it, too, was repaired.
Also Thursday, federal prosecutors announced they've opened a criminal probe into the spill, issuing subpoenas to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Duke Energy for documents and communications related to the pond from 2010 to the present.
McCrory is a former employee of Duke Energy who still holds stock in the company in his 401(k) account. The company has also been a major donor to the McCrory campaign and to third-party groups that have spent large sums on the governor's behalf.
The Associated Press reported recently that DENR has intervened three times in the past year alone to override citizen lawsuits seeking to force Duke Energy to clean up coal ash ponds.
During the question-and-answer period after Friday's winter storm update, McCrory took exception to a reporter's question about whether he had communicated with Duke Energy or its lobbyists about his administration's intervention into those lawsuits.
"I have had no conversations with Duke Energy about the lawsuits or about the federal action," McCrory responded. "I think some of the premise of your question is totally inaccurate."
Visibly irritated, he added that he would "have [DENR] Secretary [John] Skvarla give you a call and make some of those corrections."
Another reporter asked the governor whether his ownership of Duke Energy stock creates a conflict or the appearance of a conflict of interest for him.
"In my 14 years as mayor of Charlotte and my one year as governor, I separate my job as governor, and I’m very proud of the job we’ve done as governor, and that regards to any company in North Carolina," McCrory answered.
When a reporter attempted to follow up, McCrory shouted him down. "Excuse me, sir! Excuse me, sir! You have not been recognized!"
When the reporter tried again, McCrory admonished him, "It's no time to be disrespectful."