News Feature | March 20, 2014

Judge: Let's See More Effort From Duke Energy

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


The courts have stepped into the North Carolina coal ash debacle.

"Duke Energy must act immediately to eliminate sources of groundwater contamination at its coal ash dumps, a judge said,” the Associated Press reported

The ruling is in response to a complaint filed long before last month's spill, which sullied 70 miles of the Dan River with coal ash. 

In the complaint, environmental groups called on the courts to step in because regulators had failed to do so. The plaintiffs alleged that "despite repeated calls and monitoring wells that showed contaminated groundwater at the ash dumps, regulators failed to take enforcement action," the report said. 

The court has now chimed in that it agrees. 

"Judge Paul Ridgeway of Wake County Superior Court, said state regulators had failed to apply state law properly to the toxic ash pits," the report said. 

The judge undid a 2012 ruling by state officials "that interpreted state rules to mean contaminated groundwater did not have to be cleaned up until they assessed the problem," the AP said. 

Duke's response, per Reuters: "We're considering this ruling as we take another look at our management of coal ash basins.""

Environmentalists welcomed the decision. 

"The ruling leaves no doubt, Duke Energy is past due on its obligation to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination, its unlined coal ash pits," D.J. Gerken, an attorney wih the Southern Environmental Law Center, who worked on this case, said in the report.

Duke Energy is on the hook for more than just cleaning up the spill. It still has to contend with coal ash ponds around the state. Who will foot the bill for that effort?

Duke CEO Lynn Good indicated "that although the company quickly promised to bear the costs of the spill clean-up, she said the utility will seek to recover the cost of ash pond remediation through customer rates,” the Charlotte Observer explained in an editorial

She argued "that ash was created over decades to generate electricity and disposal is a cost associated with that. The N.C. Utilities Commission would have to decide on such a rate increase," the report said. 

Image credit: "Gavel & Stryker," © 2008 KeithBurtis, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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