- Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality have reached a settlement over the utility's part in a 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River, calling for the utility to pay a $6 million fine, the Charlotte Business Journal reports.
- The settlement is in addition to Duke's obligations to excavate and close the coal ash ponds by August 2019, as directed by state law.
- Regulators had initially proposed a $25.1 million fine but it was lowered when Duke challenged. The utility later challenged the amended $6.8 million fine, a state record, earlier this year. The accident resulted in 39,000 tons of coal ash leaking into the waterway.
Duke Energy's settlement with the DEQ is only about 12% lower than what was originally proposed, and the agreement gives little indication into why the utility decided to accept, according to the news outlet. .
The utility appealed a larger proposed fine earlier this year, calling it “grossly out of proportion" to how regulators treated other cases. But the agreement heads off protracted litigation, and DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart said the settlement is proof Gov. Pat McCrory's administration is committed protecting the environment.
“Unlike previous administrations, we will take enforcement actions against anyone that does not comply with the law so that we can prevent future environmental catastrophes," van der Vaart said in a statement.
The move comes after a state toxicologist alleged in a deposition earlier this year that the health director, Dr. Randall Williams, knowingly misled residents by saying the water was safe to drink, despite tests showing levels of contamination above acceptable levels. McCrory had signed off on a compromise bill directing Duke Energy to clean up coal ash pits at half of its sites without excavating the waste so long as the utility provides clean drinking water to nearby residents.
Duke is also required to close all of its coal ash ponds by 2029 and provide permanent alternative water supplies to residents around coal ash facilities by the fall of 2018. The fine paid by the utility will go to a statewide fund for public schools.
The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in June the state’s 2014 coal ash law allows Duke Energy until 2029 to complete its coal ash site clean-up in the state.