Duke Energy Pleads Guilty to Clean Water Act Crimes

On May 14, Duke Energy Corp. pleaded guilty to nine misdemeanor counts related to unpermitted discharges and maintenance issues at five North Carolina coal ash storage facilities. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina also approved a $102 million plea agreement to resolve criminal charges against Duke Energy. It involves $68.2 million in fines and restoration costs and $34 million in community service and mitigation. An attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center called the fine one of the largest to be imposed under the Clean Water Act.

In February 2014, a 122-cm (48-in) stormwater pipe ruptured beneath a coal ash pond, sending the ash into the Dan River. In court, Duke Energy admitted that company engineers twice recommended a $20,000 video inspection of that pipe, but it was not done for budgetary reasons.

Duke Energy is also required to partake in an environmental compliance program overseen by an independent entity, and compliance obligations will extend to facilities in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and South Carolina. Additionally, North Carolina is requiring the company to close its 32 coal ash ponds statewide by 2030. Read more.

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The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) issued its largest ever fine of $25.1 million to Duke Energy for groundwater contamination beneath a coal ash pond near Wilmington, North Carolina. On April 9, Duke Energy appealed this fine, maintaining that it has not broken the law or endangered public health. NCDENR says otherwise, stating that arsenic, thallium, manganese, and selenium were found in monitoring wells at concentrations above allowed levels.

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