North Carolina officials have slapped Duke Energy with the state’s largest-ever penalty for environmental damages, fining the utility $25.1 million for groundwater contamination caused by coal ash — the subject of a previous Center for Public Integrity investigation.
The unprecedented fine, announced March 10 by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, resulted from unsafe levels of such contaminants as boron, thallium, selenium and arsenic — in some cases, for nearly five years — in groundwater from coal ash ponds at the Sutton Plant, near Wilmington. The fine followed violations cited by the state environmental agency at the now-shuttered Duke facility in August 2014.
In a statement, DENR Secretary Donald van der Vaart described the enforcement action as part of an “aggressive approach this administration has taken on coal ash.”
“In addition to holding the utility accountable for past contamination we have found across the state,” he said, “we are also moving expeditiously to remove the threat to our waterways and groundwater from coal ash ponds statewide.”
Coal ash is a byproduct of electric power generation. One of the nation’s largest refuse streams totaling 136 million tons a year, coal ash has fouled water supplies, endangered public health and threatened communities across the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency itself has recognized as many as 160 “damage” cases in which coal ash from ponds, landfills and other dumpsites have contaminated nearby aquifers, streams, rivers and lakes or tainted the air, including in North Carolina.