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Coal ash is the waste that remains when coal is burned. It is usually collected in a dump, known as a pond. North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.Many see potential complications because North Carolina's governor, Pat McCrory, worked for Duke Energy for 28 years.

Today In Coal Ash: More Subpoenas, DENR On The Defense

Tom Augspurger (l), USFWS, taking core sample during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill.
Steve Alexander

Federal prosecutors have handed out more subpoenas in a criminal investigation stemming from the recent coal ash spill in Eden. The government is seeking documents from 20 current and former employees at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Prosecutors are also calling on those individuals to testify before a grand jury. The subpoenas seek records related to cash, items of value or investments that state employees might have received from Duke.

“Any implication or allegation that DENR and Duke got together and make some smoky backroom deal with a nominal fine is absolutely not true,” said John Skvarla, Secretary of DENR. Skvarla spoke for 25-minutes at a press conference Wednesday. 

A pipe running under a coal ash pond in Eden ruptured earlier this month setting of the third largest spill of its kind in U-S history. Environmentalists have called DENR’s relationship with Duke too cozy, and assert the state agency is unable to police the nation’s largest electricity provider.  John Skvarla is the head of DENR. He defended the organization during an hour-long briefing Wednesday.

"Somehow or another this perception has been created that we are adversaries to the citizens groups, when in fact we are all on the same side of the table. We are partners," Skvala said.

No environmentalists or citizens groups were part of yesterday’s press conference.  

Duke confirmed it received a second subpoena this week, but would not go into specifics. The potentially toxic coal ash has traveled 70 miles downstream into Virginia. State and federal officials say that treated drinking water remains safe for public consumption.

PHOTOS: What it looked like when the coal ash drained from a power plant to the Dan River

US Fish and Wildlife Service responds to coal ash spill on Dan River
Credit USFWS
US Fish and Wildlife Service responds to coal ash spill on Dan River

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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