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Energy & Environment
Here are some of the other stories catching our attention.

Duke Pleads Guilty To Coal Ash Misconduct

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Ben Bradford
/
WFAE

Duke Energy has pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for its handling of coal ash, which led to last year’s Dan River spill and violated the Clean Water Act around the state.

Duke Energy pleaded guilty to nine misdemeanor violations and agreed to pay over $100 million, as part of a settlement with federal prosecutors.

They charged Duke with criminal neglect for allowing the pipe to break that caused the Dan River spill; as well as for allowing and, in some cases, creating places at other coal plants where coal ash could seep from containment ponds. That includes at the Riverbend Power Plant, on the edge of Mountain Island Lake—where Charlotte gets its drinking water.

The settlement is the result of a year-long investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office after the Dan River spill. It’s the first time a company has been charged for a coal ash spill. The company is contesting that charge.

New details on events leading to the Dan River spill

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The U.S. Justice Department also released a nearly 80-page document explaining the "factual basis" for the charges, including new details about Duke's actions before the Dan River spill. Almost three years before a rusted metal pipe burst underneath a coal ash pond at the plant--sending tens of thousands of tons of the ash into the river--Duke Energy engineers were worried about it. They asked to install cameras in pipes under the ponds, for a cost of $20,000. A company vice-president denied the request, and again when the head of the plant called directly, and again the next year. The court document describes that, and traces a history of problems with those pipes back to the 1970s.

Instead of the $20,000 for cameras, Duke has paid more than $20 million so far for the Dan River spill, as well as the more than $100 million to settle with federal prosecutors. State regulators have a pending fine against Duke for $25 million, which the company is contesting. And, Duke will pay billions to close its coal ash ponds around North Carolina to comply with a state law. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.