Duke Energy guilty in N.C. coal ash pollution

Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

Duke Energy has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in the criminal investigation into the company’s handling of coal ash in North Carolina.

According to a Duke Energy press release, the plea agreement includes $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation. The plea includes a five-year probation with a court-appointed monitor to ensure compliance.

The agreement identifies multiple misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act in connection with last year’s coal ash spill in the Dan River as well as unauthorized discharges at other Duke coal plants in North Carolina. The agreement is subject to review and approval by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The agreement does not affect state lawsuits against Duke Energy, in which Appalachian Voices and our partners have intervened. Nor does it resolve the federal investigation of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The federal grand jury investigation began last year after 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled from a retired Duke Energy coal plant into the Dan River.

The following is a statement from Amy Adams, N.C. Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, and former supervisor with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources:

“It’s good to see that federal enforcers have taken this issue seriously by diligently pursuing criminal charges and levying a substantial fine against Duke, and it’s good to see Duke acknowledge its culpability. However, we have yet to see that culpability turn into real action. There still remains leaking coal ash ponds at 10 of Duke’s sites, 10 communities in limbo, and a lot of ash that must be permanently and safely disposed.

“Important questions remain, like exactly how the money will be spent and whether any individuals will be named, but most troubling is the currently unanswered question of whether DENR was aware of negligence and failed to act, or was unable to recognize the magnitude of the situation in the first place.”