North Carolina Scuttles Earlier Settlement With Duke Energy Over Mounting Public Outrage

North Carolina Scuttles Earlier Settlement With Duke Energy Over Mounting Public Outrage

An earlier settlement that would have had Duke Energy pay only a tiny fine of $99,000 for polluting 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge is about to be quashed.

via Associated Press

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina regulators say they have asked a judge to withdraw a proposed settlement that would have allowed Duke Energy to resolve environmental violations by paying a $99,000 fine with no requirement that the $50 billion company clean up its pollution.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said in a statement Friday that it would scuttle the proposed consent order to settle violations for groundwater contamination leeching from coal ash dumps near Charlotte and Asheville.

The decision comes after a Feb. 2 spill at a Duke coal ash dump in Eden coated 70 miles (113 kilometers) of the Dan River in toxic sludge.

The settlement was initially tabled last month, the day after an Associated Press story highlighting what environmentalists criticized as a "sweetheart deal" to Duke.

And just how did such an absurd "settlement" come into being in the first place? Well, last summer Duke was in a bind over new environmental restrictions that would have forced them to clean up and be held libel for for any seepage into the groundwater. They turned to some old friends, including their governor.

via Michael Biesecker, Michael Weiss of the Associated Press

Documents and interviews collected by The Associated Press show how Duke's lobbyists prodded Republican legislators to tuck a 330-word provision in a regulatory reform bill running nearly 60 single-spaced pages. Though the bill never once mentions coal ash, the change allowed Duke to avoid any costly cleanup of contaminated groundwater leaching from its unlined dumps toward rivers, lakes and the drinking wells of nearby homeowners.

Passed overwhelmingly by the GOP-controlled legislature, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, a pro-business Republican who worked at Duke for 28 years.

"For decades, Democrats have stifled small businesses and job creators with undue bureaucratic burden and red tape," McCrory said at the time. "This common-sense legislation cuts government red tape, axes overly burdensome regulations, and puts job creation first here in North Carolina."


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Environmentalists saw the legislation, and its little-noticed provision benefiting Duke, differently.

"This sweeping change gutted North Carolina's groundwater law," recounts D.J. Gerken, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

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