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Duke Energy appeals fine issued by North Carolina environmental regulators

Published by
World Coal,

Duke Energy has appealed an unprecedented fine issued by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NC DENR), arguing, among other things, that actions already taken by the company make the penalty unnecessary and excessive. The company is asking that the fine be dismissed.

On 10 March 2015, the environmental regulator fined the company US$25.1 million for groundwater violations at the L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant in Wilmington.

"The Sutton plant generated electricity for millions of customers and operated in compliance with North Carolina law and environmental regulations," said Paul Newton, state president – North Carolina. "We closely monitored groundwater, shared the data with the state for decades, and voluntarily acted to ensure residents near the Sutton plant continue to have a high-quality water supply."

The appeal, filed with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, describes a number of instances where the company believes NC DENR's actions violated state law, the regulator's own rules and procedures, public policy and the longstanding interpretation of the regulations, including:

  • Fining the company for 1822 days of alleged groundwater violations despite having sample results for just 27 days.
  • Creating an entirely new methodology to calculate the fine that dramatically increased the size of the penalty, making it US$24 million higher than similar fines issued by NC DENR.
  • Failure to consider naturally occurring substances and other potential sources of groundwater contamination in the area.

"There are important legal issues here that must be resolved for the sake of everyone in North Carolina," said Newton. "At the same time, we remain focused on closing ash basins as quickly as the state process will allow, which ultimately addresses groundwater concerns."

The company will close 32 ash basins across North Carolina, and has been working hard on plans to execute these closures. The work will begin at four facilities: Asheville, Dan River, Riverbend, and Sutton.

Ash can only be removed from the basins after the state issues new wastewater permits, for which the company applied in 2014. The first three of these permits are expected this summer.

Adapted from press release by Joseph Green

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