By Elizabeth E. Payne
Conservation groups in North Carolina, including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this paper, are challenging a settlement between Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality that significantly reduces the $25.1 million fine levied against the company for pollution violations at its Sutton Lake power plant near Wilmington, N.C.
The settlement requires the company to pay a much smaller fine of $7 million and, according to a statement issued by Duke Energy, the arrangement “resolves former, current and future groundwater issues at all 14 North Carolina coal facilities, including the retired Sutton plant.” In addition to the fine, the settlement also requires Duke to accelerate cleanup at four of these sites, each of which has documented contamination outside Duke’s property lines.
Also in North Carolina, a U.S. District Court judge sided with environmental groups in dismissing Duke Energy’s challenge to their lawsuit over water pollution and safety violations at Duke’s retired Buck Power Plant near Salisbury.
In her ruling, Judge Loretta C. Biggs also raised concerns about the DEQ, formerly known as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “The court is unable to find that [the agency] was trying diligently or that its state enforcement action was calculated, in good faith, to require compliance with the Clean Water Act,” she wrote.
Finally, the DEQ is required to prepare its recommendations for the state’s coal ash impoundment by Dec. 31. The N.C. Coal Ash Management Commission was set up to advise this process, yet as of late November the commission is unable to reach a quorum due to a challenge to the constitutionality of six of its nine members. Until the challenge to its membership is resolved, the commission will be unable to contribute to the assessment.
In Tennessee, residential wells near the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Gallatin Fossil Plant in Sumner County have tested positive for elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen. According to The Tennessean, local residents learned this information in letters from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.