NC Fines Duke Energy for Pollution

Thursday, March 12, 2015 @ 02:03 PM gHale

Duke Energy is facing a $25 million fine over pollution that leaked into groundwater for years from a pair of coal ash pits at a retired power plant, said North Carolina environmental officials.

Calling it the state’s largest penalty for environmental damages, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued the fine over ongoing contamination at the L.V. Sutton Electric Plant outside Wilmington. The site includes a pair of unlined dumps estimated to hold 2.6 million tons of ash.

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“Today’s enforcement action continues the aggressive approach this administration has taken on coal ash,” said Donald R. van der Vaart, the department’s secretary.

“A $25 million fine doesn’t do anything to clean up the contamination caused by Duke’s coal ash ponds,” said Kemp Burdette, executive director of the nonprofit Cape Fear River Watch organization.

“They’re not forcing Duke to start treating groundwater, or start doing something to clean up the contamination. What they need to be doing is forcing them to clean it up. If they want to fine them, fine. The important thing here is getting the groundwater cleaned up,” he said.

Charlotte-based Duke Energy has 30 days to appeal the fine. The company did not immediately respond to email or phone messages Tuesday.

The state said monitoring wells near Duke’s dumps at Sutton showed readings exceeding state groundwater standards or boron, thallium, selenium, iron, manganese and other chemicals. Thallium saw use for decades as the active ingredient in rat poison until officials banned it because it is highly toxic.

With thallium, the state said it determined Duke allowed the toxic chemical to “leach into groundwater at the Sutton facility for 1,668 days.”

Duke’s 32 coal ash dumps scattered at 14 sites across the state have been under intense scrutiny since last year, when a pipe collapse at the company’s plant in Eden coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. The ash, which is the waste left behind when a plant burns coal to generate electricity, contains toxic heavy metals.

North Carolina lawmakers approved new legislation last year requiring Duke to dig up or cap all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.

And federal prosecutors recently filed multiple criminal charges against Duke over years of illegal pollution leaking from coal ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.

Duke has said that it has already negotiated a plea agreement under which it will admit guilt and pay $102 million in fines, restitution and community service. The company said the costs of the settlement will be borne by its shareholders, not passed on to its electricity customers.

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