News Feature | March 19, 2014

Feds Investigate Link Between Suspected Polluter And N.C. Environmental Department

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

dukeplantreg

Federal authorities are investigating the relationship between Duke Energy and state environmental regulators—and it looks like it was pretty snug. 

The tight relationship came to light after "one of the utility’s coal ash ponds spilled tens of thousands of tons of toxic slurry into the Dan River" in February, the New York Times explained

It now appears that Duke and the North Carolina's Department of Environmental and Natural Resources corresponded on the nitty-gritty of state affairs, even when it came to how much influence regulators would give Duke's rivals in official proceedings. 

The Times recently revealed that "environmental regulators in North Carolina consulted Duke Energy last year before seeking to exclude citizen activists from talks to settle charges that the utility’s coal ash ponds had polluted the state’s groundwater," the report said.

The DENR "is supposed to be a public agency that protects the public interest," Frank Holleman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a WRAL report. "What you have here is a very cozy relationship between the law enforcement agency and the law breaker."

North Carolina regulator appears to have gotten tougher on Duke after the spill, forcing the utility to explain how it will treat environmental hazards that remain in the state. 

Duke said "it wants to move millions of tons of toxic coal ash stored near Mountain Island Lake to Charlotte’s airport," the Charlotte Observer reported

State leaders were not impressed with the proposal. 

“There are far too many questions left unanswered, and Duke Energy should provide the information we originally requested, including the estimated costs of cleanup, plans for the future and a detailed timeline,” DENR Secretary John Skvarla said in a statement, published in the Observer

How does the public feel? Voters appear to think that Duke should cover the cost of cleanup.  

"A new poll finds that almost 80 percent of North Carolinians think Duke Energy alone should pay for the clean-up efforts from the recent coal ash spill on the Dan River. Earlier this month, the nation’s largest utility decided that its customers would bear the burden through increased rates," Chapel Boro reported

Image credit: "duke-energy-plant-morro-bay," mikebaird © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/deed.en

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