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Monday, October 24, 2016

By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

MONCURE, N.C. — While poring over regulatory documents for Duke Energy coal ash ponds, environmentalists at the Waterkeeper Alliance grew suspicious of how the giant utility was handling the toxic ash waste left over from burning coal.

They sent a team up in an aircraft to photograph Duke’s retired Cape Fear coal-burning power plant and ash ponds in this tiny community in central North Carolina.

The photos revealed what the Waterkeeper Alliance says is evidence that Duke, the nation’s largest electric utility, is deliberately pumping toxic coal ash wastewater from the containment ponds into a canal that feeds into the Cape Fear River, a source of drinking water for downstream cities.

In the photos, two portable pumps and hoses can be seen drawing water from a coal ash pond and dumping into the canal and into nearby woods. According to the environmental group, that is a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act and state laws.

“They were trying to hide it. It was just dumb luck that we caught them at it,” said Peter Harrison, staff attorney for the alliance.

State regulators said the pumping could be illegal.

Duke and state regulators are under intense public and political pressure after the February 2 Duke Energy coal ash spill, which coated the Dan River with toxic coal ash sludge for at least 70 miles in North Carolina and Virginia. Hazardous heavy metals such as arsenic and lead were dumped into the river.

That spill, at a retired Duke Energy coal-fired plant in Eden, N.C., led to allegations by environmental groups that state regulators have been soft on Duke and have ignored coal ash seepage for years from 14 Duke plants in North Carolina. It was the third-worst such spill in U.S. history.

Federal prosecutors have announced a criminal investigation into the relationship between the state agency and Duke Energy. They have said they are seeking evidence of any money or gifts exchanging hands. Officials at the state agency and at Duke Power have been issued subpoenas to appear before a grand jury this week.

In a statement, Duke Energy said the pumps were permitted by state regulators.

“The pumps in question are temporary installations used to lower the water level in those ash basins in order to perform maintenance on equipment in the basins,” the statement said. “This maintenance activity is allowed under our permits and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is aware that this work is occurring.”

A spokesman for the state agency, Drew Elliott, said in an email message: “Our inspectors noticed this pumping during an on-site inspection this week, and we are investigating the utility’s actions. While routine maintenance is allowed under the permit, discharge of untreated wastewater could be a violation.”

Elliott said he didn’t know whether the inspectors noticed the pumps before or after the Waterkeeper Alliance took aerial photos. The agency announced March 5 that it would conduct detailed inspections of all coal ash ponds at Duke’s 14 plants, including the Moncure plant.

Harrison called Duke Energy’s explanation “absurd.” He said no state permit would allow a utility to pump coal ash water from ponds because pumping would dredge up toxic heavy metals that settle at the bottom of the ponds.

Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. via Flickr

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Copyright 2014 The National Memo
  • lemstoll

    Who’s zoomin’ whom?

    • lemstoll

      “old man river….”

      • lemstoll

        Coal is clean…..

  • johninPCFL

    So let’s see if all these facts fit… McCrory is a Duke Energy stooge (er..employee) for 30 years, then is elected governor. As governor of Duke Energy (er..North Carolina) he negotiates a settement with Duke Energy that caps all lawsuits against them and settles all outstanding actions against them for $99,111.
    $99,111 wasn’t enough to clean up 70 miles of the Dan River?!?!? Shocked, I am shocked!?!?!?
    /sarc off

  • Dominick Vila

    This reminds me of the Allied Chemical “kepone” mess several decades ago. Fear not, the special interest that influence “conservative” policies will manage to minimize the importance of environmental crimes like this by ridiculing environmentalists causes. They will highlight the focus of environmentalists in studying the sex life of an insect, or proposing policies to prevent the extinction of a fish species, as examples of ridiculous liberal policies and how they affect “progress”, and most American will buy it.
    Those responsible for environmental crimes such as this should spend the rest of their lives in maximum security prisons.

  • 788eddie

    I’m sorry, guys, but in cases like this, when there is obvious intent, and a danger to the public, I don’t see the problem in bringing back the death penalty.

    They’d get the message after a while.

    • Joseph

      Good idea, but we can’t even get them into court and demand reasonable fine. See, your probelm is you think your state belongs to the people and, sorry, it belongs to several corporation who will use it as they see fit. By the time the citizens rais the “Holy Shit!” falg the corporatins willb egone, the owners and mangers will be living else where and – you can bet – well upstream from similar operations. See these guys aren’t stupid. Their job is really to sell really bad ideas to stupid people.

  • howa4x

    Republican governors and presidents won’t be satisfied until they pollute all the drinking water in their states in the name of corporate profits that are stiffened back into their campaigns. The 1% cares little for the health and safety of the average American and will always stand with corporate profits against their interests. The buying of our political parties comes with a risk of our own extinction as a species. They all act like greedy hogs at a feeding trough caring not where and how the next meal with come from.
    This will be the next economic meltdown when companies are finally tagged with all the cleanup costs of our rivers, lakes and air. Then you will see them all begging and demanding a government bailout, so they can once again walk away with all their illicit profits while we rob future generations for the cleanup costs.

  • stcroixcarp

    The polluters should be forced to drink, wash and cook with water directly from the canal. After 5 years we will be able to see how save this run off is.

    • rkief

      Or they should be forced to live in the areas that their policies and activities affect.

  • DBH316

    Someone call Erin Brockovich and lets get this party started.

  • Joseph

    Hey, whats a few more dead North Carolinian’s? it’s not as if we didn’t have way more than we needed.

  • Brent

    YEAH Sure, let’s let all these massively righteous companies REGULATE themselves, since they seem to be exercising such environmentally sound actions……

  • highpckts

    And they say that we should be ashamed of the debt we are leaving our kids??? How about a polluted, unlivable, ruined planet with no water! Jack asses!!