The United States Attorney issued subpoenas to Duke Energy and the North Carolina government agency DENR that is responsible for enforcing federal environmental water quality laws for a grand jury investigation into suspected felonious activity concerning the recent massive coal ash spill into the Dan River. The federal subpoena released by DENR requested extensive records going back to the year 2000 involving the relationship between Duke Power and DENR regarding the Dan River Steam Station.
Environmental groups have repeatedly sued Duke Energy for action to stop the ongoing leakage of toxic coal ash contaminants into North Carolina's waterways and water supplies, but the state government has stepped in to stop the suits. Duke Energy and the state government have been repeatedly warned that coal ash ponds were endangering health and safety, but the state has repeatedly proposed settling with Duke power for tiny fines and minimal action to clean up the massive ash piles along North Carolina's rivers. The U.S. Attorney is apparently investigating possible corruption in the relationship between Duke Energy and the North Carolina state government. Governor McCrory was employed by Duke Energy for over 20 years and accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from Duke Energy. The subpoenaed information will likely be used to investigate possible felonious collusion between Duke Energy and the McCrory administration concerning the Dan River spill and Duke Energy's many other dangerous coal ash impoundments which are leaking toxins into North Carolina's waterways.
DENR's false claims that the water in the Dan River was safe, when their own data showed it wasn't, endangered the public and may have violated federal law.
Though this is shocking news, it’s not surprising considering DENR’s delayed response to the spill and the report last Friday showing that the agency assured the public for five days that arsenic levels in the Dan River were within safe human health standards, when in fact DENR’s own test results clearly showed arsenic levels were four times higher on the Monday and Tuesday following the spill.
DENR will have to turn over an extensive list of documents detailing the state’s interactions with Duke and the Dan River Steam Station dating back to 2000, including:
• The station’s pollution discharge permits, which dictate what Duke may release into the Dan River.
• All records relating to the broken stormwater pipe dating back to January 2010. The stormwater pipe runs under one of the station’s coal ash storage basins.
• Correspondences between state environmental officials and Duke Energy;
• Any administrative penalties the company received.
• All information related to inspections conducted at the steam station since 2000.
• Information, including emails, photographs and videos, about any discharges or seepages from any coal ash ponds on the site.
Groundwater monitoring done before the spill, from 2011 to 2013, found dangerous levels of the toxic elements antimony and arsenic, and other contaminants above legal limits, around the Dan River coal ash impoundment. Duke Energy and the state of North Carolina knowingly did nothing to remedy the dangerous situation even after Duke Energy was sued by environmental organizations. The fact that they knew of the dangerous situation but willfully did nothing to remedy it may be one of the reasons that the U.S. Attorney suspects that felonies may have been committed. Moreover, the financial relationship between Governor McCrory and Duke Energy is highly suspicious.
After the third-largest coal ash spill in U.S. history at a shuttered Duke Energy coal plant, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources is rethinking its proposed settlement with Duke over earlier groundwater contamination from two other coal ash dumps.
Under the deal, which may now be tossed out, Duke would have paid a fine of just $99,111. Lawyers for the agency have asked a judge to disregard this proposal.
“DENR asks this court to hold in abeyance any further consideration of the proposed consent order while DENR undertakes a comprehensive review of all North Carolina coal ash facilities in view of the recent coal ash release into the Dan River,” said the state’s letter to Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway. “DENR will advise the court when it has completed this additional review of North Carolina coal ash facilities and the requirements of the proposed consent order.”
The proposed settlement announced last July was for discharges of coal ash-contaminated wastewater from Duke’s Asheville plant in Buncombe County and its Riverbend plant near Charlotte. Monitoring of groundwater quality near the plants showed levels of boron, manganese, and thallium that exceeded regulatory limits. The deal was immediately blasted by environmental and campaign watchdog groups as a “remarkable sweetheart deal anchored with $1 million in campaign contributions.”
“Given Duke’s $19.6 billion in 2012 operating revenues, that’s the equivalent of fining a person with a $60,000 salary a total of 30 cents,” said Democracy North Carolina in a statement.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for almost 30 years and still holds stock in the nation’s largest electric utility.
According to an analysis by Democracy North Carolina, McCrory received over $300,000 in direct campaign contributions from Duke-Energy related donors during his 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial races. The Republican Governors Association, which spent over $10 million supporting McCrory’s bid, also received around $760,000 from Duke.