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Duke Energy and DEQ Reach $20M Settlement Over Coal Ash

Allen plant
Duke Energy

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has reached an estimated $20 million settlement with Duke Energy for groundwater contamination at all of its 14 coal ash facilities. The settlement also requires Duke Energy to accelerate clean-up of groundwater contamination at four coal ash sites:

  • Sutton Plant near Wilmington
  • Asheville Plant
  • H.F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro
  • Belews Creek Steam Station

DEQ fined Duke Energy $25.1 million in March for groundwater contamination at its Sutton Plant.
“Our chief goal is to protect the environment and public health while requiring corrective action to restore groundwater quality. This settlement resolves the issue of fines for past violations and allows DEQ to commit all of its resources to overseeing Duke Energy’s clean-up process," DEQ Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart said in a statement.

The settlement includes Duke Energy paying $7 million in fines and penalties for past groundwater contamination at all of its 14 coal ash facilities, as well as $10 to $15 million to speed up clean-up at the four sites previously. DEQ says the estimated $20 million settlement prevents the state from incurring additional legal fees connected with continuing litigation.

Duke Energy officials said in a statement the settlement resolves "former, current and future groundwater issues" at the 14 coal ash sites.

"Operating our system safely and protecting the health and well-being of our plant neighbors are our highest priorities. That's why we closely monitor groundwater at our facilities, have shared the data with the state for decades, and acted to ensure that neighbors continue to have high-quality water supplies," Duke Energy officials said. "Ultimately, closing ash basins in ways that protect people and the environment will address groundwater concerns."

In addition to the settlement requirements, Duke Energy is obligated under the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 to close all of its coal ash ponds by 2029.

“North Carolina looks forward to working with all energy providers to supply clean, affordable power to the citizens of the state while protecting the environment and public health,” Secretary van der Vaart said.

But Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) Senior Attorney Frank Holleman said the settlement is not focused enough on enforcing water pollution laws and do not seem to require Duke Energy to do anything new.  He said actions at the Sutton Plant were already laid out between Duke Energy and the state, and DEQ is giving Duke Energy a pass at other sites.

“In its first days of existence, DEQ has voluntarily prevented itself from taking action to protect North Carolinians from coal ash pollution of their drinking water by giving Duke amnesty for past, present, and future violations–even agreeing to limit the state’s ability to monitor Duke’s pollution–including at sites like Buck in Salisbury and Allen on Lake Wylie, where residents have severe concerns about their drinking water supplies," Holleman said in a statement.

The terms of the agreement can be found at Duke Energy's website here.

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
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