March 10th | The Charlotte Observer | Bruce Henderson
North Carolina officials announced Tuesday that they would penalize Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility company, with the highest environmental fine in the state’s history.
The Charlotte Observer reported the $25.1 million fine was for contamination of groundwater by coal ash leaking from unlined disposal pits at Duke Energy’s Sutton Plant near Wilmington, North Carolina. Coal ash is the dust-like substance that is leftover when power plants burn coal for electricity, and can contain toxins like arsenic, lead and mercury which are harmful to humans and wildlife.
Coal ash elements in test wells around the power plant had exceeded the state’s groundwater standards for as many as five years.
Advocates told The Charlotte Observer that the fine does little to protect people who are living nearby and drinking that water.
“Until the state actually forces Duke to clean up the mess that people are sitting in right next to the plant, $25 million doesn’t mean anything to them,” Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette said.
Duke’s 32 coal-ash disposal sites across the state have been under intense scrutiny since last year when a pipe burst beneath a coal ash disposal site near Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Power Station in Eden, North Carolina. Millions of gallons of coal ash spilled into the nearby Dan River. Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Duke Energy for violating the Clean Water Act.
Inside Energy reported that in December of last year, the EPA issued its first-ever coal ash regulations. The EPA’s new rule aims to make it safer to get rid of this material because, if done improperly, disposal can lead to contaminated drinking water and air. But the agency stopped short of classifying it as a “hazardous material,” as it had in one of the two preliminary proposals.