Refusing to sit by while the state agrees to abandon enforcement of groundwater pollution laws, today SELC filed a legal challenge asking the Superior Court to overturn approval of a settlement between Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality over the utility’s coal ash pollution throughout the state. The settlement is the latest example of North Carolina’s state environmental agency routinely obstructing citizen efforts to secure full cleanups at Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites.
In the settled action, Duke had appealed a groundwater penalty at a single coal ash storage site but, in the settlement agreement, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) abandons enforcement of groundwater pollution laws at every one of Duke’s coal ash sites for cases pending in Superior Court – and even for future violations.
“Duke Energy and DEQ twisted a simple penalty dispute into a bad settlement that does nothing to clean up groundwater at ten sites where coal ash threatens our waterways and communities,” said Managing Attorney D.J. Gerken. “Their agreement lets Duke buy amnesty for all past, present, and future violations of groundwater law for a bargain at $500,000 per power plant, at coal ash sites that were not even part of the dispute being settled.”
The settlement was reached without the involvement of the citizen conservation groups that have fought successfully for coal ash cleanups.
“This latest sweetheart settlement shows what happens when Duke Energy and state bureaucrats get in a room together without public scrutiny,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman.
In September, the state drew criticism by asking to stop its own coal ash enforcement cases in Superior Court and not ordering cleanups at several Duke Energy sites. The court concluded that clean ups should proceed at those sites over DEQ’s objection and that the remaining cases would go forward. Last year, the state was forced to abandon a proposed settlement that would have allowed Duke Energy to study its coal ash pollution with no cleanup requirements. That proposal was widely criticized both in the press and in comments submitted by North Carolinians. Drinking water testing at homes around Duke Energy coal ash sites later revealed that 93% of tested wells have elevated levels of contaminants.
A full timeline of the questionable coal ash enforcement by DEQ and its collaboration with Duke Energy is available here, while more background on the recent history of coal ash in North Carolina is available here.
Catch up on coverage of SELC's appeal.
News & Observer: Environmental groups challenge N.C. settlement with Duke Energy
Read recent commentary on DEQ's settlement with Duke Energy.
News & Observer: Outrage over the Duke fine
Fayetteville Observer: Our view: If regulators, Duke aren't cozy, then who is?