The state's Department of Environmental and Natural Resources
(DENR), which has been criticized by green groups and faces a
federal government criminal probe over its handling of the
decommissioned Eden plant's spill, issued two notices of wastewater
and stormwater violations.
"These are violations of state and federal law, and we are holding
the utility accountable," said DENR Secretary John Skvarla.
The total amount of fines had not been determined, though Duke could
face civil fines of up to $25,000 per day, the DENR said.
At least 30,000 tons of toxic coal ash were released into the Dan
River when a pipe broke under the 27-acre (11-hectare) ash pond in a
spill discovered on February 2. State officials found a second leak
of arsenic-laced discharge from another pipe during their
The coal-fired plant was built in the 1940s and retired in 2012. The
ash pond stores the waste the plant produced. The discharge led to
coal combustion waste coating the river bottom as far as 70 miles
Both leaks have been plugged, according to Duke and the state
regulator. Two towns in neighboring Virginia, Danville and South
Boston, get their drinking water from the river.
The DENR also said this week it planned to modify permitting that
has allowed Duke to discharge certain amounts of wastewater and
force the utility to move thousands of tons of coal ash from storage
ponds to a lined landfill.
Duke, the largest electric power provider in the United States,
could not immediately be reached for comment. It has said drinking
water is safe and it continues to test Dan River water.
"We will do the right thing for the river and surrounding
communities," Paul Newton, president of Duke Energy North Carolina,
said in a statement on the utility's website. "We are accountable."
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On Friday, the DENR said its investigation found Duke violated water
quality laws, rules, and lacked proper water-discharge permitting in
the massive spill and in its management of the coal ash pond and its
flows into the Dan River.
The DENR also said Duke neither applied for, nor was issued, a
so-called National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for
discharging stormwater from a steam electric power generating
facility into state waters.
Environmental groups say the coal ash, a powdery byproduct of power
plants containing heavy metals that can cause cancer and nervous
system damage, is stored in antiquated or unlined pits and risks
seeping into groundwater and nearby rivers.
U.S. prosecutors have opened a criminal probe over the spill and
have requested inspection records and copies of correspondence
between the DENR and Duke Energy.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, editing by David Evans)
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