State Charges Duke Energy Record Fine Over Coal Ash
North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has issued the largest fine in its history, against Duke Energy. The agency fined Duke $25 million for pollution from coal ash at its Sutton Lake coal plant, near Wilmington.
The previous record fine from the agency was $5.6 million for an air quality violation in 1986.
A letter from DENR charges that the company allowed water containing arsenic, selenium and other pollutants associated with coal ash to seep from storage ponds and into nearby groundwater from, in some cases, as early as 2009 until last year. Environmental groups have long complained about selenium in Sutton Lake, commissioning studies that showed it was deforming and killing fish.
While the record amount may surprise, the fine itself is not unexpected. DENR has tracked pollution from coal ash at all 14 of Duke’s North Carolina coal plants for years. After the Dan River spill in February of last year, state regulators issued citations for violations at nearly all of those coal plants, which can then lead to fines. Sutton is the first coal plant to receive a fine for coal ash, since the Dan River spill in February of last year, and the agency says it could levy more, including for Clean Water Act violations.
Duke has already agreed to a $100 million settlement with federal prosecutors criminal charges related to coal ash pollution around the state, including charges of criminal neglect. A judge must still agree to that settlement.
The fine also represents a major about-face for DENR. The agency had its own settlement in the works over allegations of coal ash pollution back in 2013--the two parties had agreed to a less than $100,000 fine in total, but the state scrapped that settlement after the Dan River spill.
Duke has 30 days to appeal the $25 million fine.