Last year, tens of thousands of tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River from a closed power plant previously operated by Duke Energy. The spill occurred when underground storm water pipes broke and an estimated 39,000 tons of waste emptied into the river.
The Associated Press reports that Duke Energy Corp. pleaded guilty this past Thursday to nine criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act. Duke has been sentenced to five years’ probation and must pay $68 million in fines and $34 million on miscellaneous environmental projects that will benefit local rivers and wetlands. Additionally, if Duke violates the terms of its probation and breaks the law within the next five years they could be subject to further action by the court.
The $102 million in federal penalties was described by U.S. district court judge Malcolm Howard as the largest federal criminal fine in North Carolina history. Duke Energy said in a press release that the historic settlement “closes a chapter in the company’s history… We’ve used the Dan River incident as an opportunity to set a new, industry-leading standard for the management of coal ash”.
Despite historic fines, The LA Times reported Sunday that North Carolina residents are still experiencing daily struggles due to Duke Energy’s negligence. Belmont resident Barbara Morales has a water well near the Allen electric station on the Catawba River. An environmental group confirmed levels of dangerous compounds within the groundwater related to two coal ash basins at the station. To remediate the issue, Duke recently began delivering three gallons of bottled water a day to her home. Morales does not have much hope that her well will ever be restored.
Water Well Department Manager