Duke Energy, state reach $20M coal ash settlement

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One of two coal ash ponds at the Sutton site, where vegetation has grown naturally on parts of the dried-out pond.
One of two coal ash ponds at the Sutton site, where vegetation has grown naturally on parts of the dried-out pond. File photo from June, 2014.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality reached an estimated $20 million settlement with Duke Energy today that holds the company accountable for groundwater contamination at all of its 14 coal ash facilities and requires accelerated cleanup of groundwater at four contamination sites—including the Sutton plant near Wilmington.

According to a release from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the settlement includes $7 million in fines and penalties for past groundwater contamination for its coal ash facilities and an estimated $10 to $15 million in accelerated remediation costs for removing pollution and other contaminants from the Sutton, Asheville, Belews Creek and H.F. Lee plants.

“This agreement holds Duke Energy accountable for past groundwater contamination and mandates that Duke Energy expeditiously clean up polluted groundwater near its coal ash sites,” said DEQ secretary Donald R. van der Vaart. “Our chief goal is to protect the environment and public health while requiring corrective action to restore groundwater quality. This settlement resolves the issue of fines for past violations and allows DEQ to commit all of its resources to overseeing Duke Energy’s clean-up process.”

In March, DEQ–then known as the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR)– levied a $25 million fine against Duke Energy for groundwater contamination from coal ash at its Sutton Facility. Duke Energy challenged the fines, arguing the actions to clean up coal ash deposits already taken by the company made the penalty “unnecessary and excessive.”

Duke Energy released a statement today stating “we welcome the opportunity to put this issue behind us, allowing us to continue focusing on closing coal ash basins as quickly as the state process will allow.”

According to DEQ, the settlement requirements are in addition to Duke Energy’s obligation under the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 to close all of its coal ash ponds by 2029 and clean up all environmental damage caused by years of improper coal ash storage. Along with resolving the case, the estimated $20 million settlement prevents the state from incurring additional legal fees associated with protracted litigation.

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