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Today In Coal Ash: Federal Testimony And A Chatham County Investigation

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland
Flickr /


A federal grand jury has been impaneled to hear evidence about the relationship between Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). At the same time, that state agency is investigating the discharge of water by the utility at a site in Chatham County. Guest host Phoebe Judge talks with WUNC's Jeff Tiberii about the latest developments on The State of Things today.

First, the court proceedings:

The highly criticized relationship between Duke Energy and DENR is the focus of the federal investigation. The U.S. Attorney's office is demanding that Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources hand over records of wire transfers, receipts and any items of value that might have passed between the two.  Twenty current and former state employees have been called to testify before a grand jury about their relationship with Duke Energy. The company and state utility commission also received subpoenas. 

This criminal investigation stems from a coal ash spill near the Virginia border six weeks ago. Thirty nine thousand tons of potentially toxic carbon byproduct poured into a river that provides drinking water downstream. It was the third largest spill of its kind in American history. Environmentalists who sued the company over water contamination a year ago called the latest incident preventable and say the state has not properly policed the utility.

Then, second, a separate environmental concern playing out in Chatham County:

As recently as last week Duke Energy was dumping surface water from a coal ash pond into a tributary of the Cape Fear River. It's not clear whether that was against any rules.

As recently as last week Duke Energy was dumping surface water from a coal ash pond into a tributary of the Cape Fear River. It is not clear whether that action violates any rules.It is unclear how much was discharged and the makeup of the contents. Some discharge from coal ash ponds is permitted by the state.

The company says this dumping is common and legal under state permit. Duke Energy says it informed DENR last August that discharge would occur as part of routine maintenance. For the last week, DENR has been investigating how much water was sent into the river, if the discharge permit was violated, and whether it received notification from the utility. 

>>Browse more of our stories related to the pipe under the coal ash pond which ruptured on February 2, 2014.

Duke has 31 other ponds at 13 other power plants around the state.

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Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
Laura Lee was the managing editor of The State of Things until mid February 2017. Born and raised in Monroe, North Carolina, Laura returned to the Old North state in 2013 after several years in Washington, DC. She received her B.A. in political science and international studies from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 and her J.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 2007.
Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
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