Duke Energy faces federal criminal charges over coal ash pollution

Federal charges filed against Duke Energy for violations of Clean Water Act

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges Friday against three subsidiaries of Duke Energy for violations of the Clean Water Act stemming from coal ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. 

Nine charges in all have been filed against the nation's largest electricity company in North Carolina's three federal court districts, said Don Connelly, a public information officer for the U.S. attorney's office. 

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said that felony charges had been filed against Duke Energy. All nine charges filed are misdemeanors.

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These violations include failing to maintain equipment at two sites and unlawfully discharging coal ash or coal ash wastewater at three sites, according to the statement.

In February 2014, a massive spill at a Duke Energy plant dumped up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of coal ash slurry into the Dan River, coating the bottom and banks for 70 miles.

Duke Energy said in a statement that it had already reached an agreement with the government that would close the federal investigation and require payment of $102 million, in addition to a five-year probation with a court-appointed monitor. The agreement still needs approval from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.  

 “We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event,” Duke President and Chief Executive Lynn Good said in a statement. “We are setting a new standard for coal ash management and implementing smart, sustainable solutions for all of our ash basins. Our highest priorities are safe operations and the well-being of the people and communities we serve.”

The five facilities named in the criminal case include the Dan River Steam Station in Rockingham County, the Cape Fear Steam Electric Plant in Chatham County, the Asheville Steam Electric Generating Plant in Buncombe County, the H.F. Lee Steam Electric Plant in Wayne County and Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County.

The maximum penalty for each count could include five years of probation, a fine between $2,500 and $25,000 per day of violation, a fine of $200,000, or restitution.

Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has represented residents in affected communities, said that fines were not enough.

"Duke Energy's polluting coal ash storage has yet to be cleaned up and has now resulted in criminal prosecutions," he said. "Duke Energy cannot buy its way out of its coal ash scandal; it has to clean its way out. Duke Energy and its executives must show the people of North Carolina that they are sorry for these crimes by moving the dangerous and polluting coal ash to safe, dry, lined storage away from our rivers and drinking water supplies."

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