Catawba Riverkeeper, Other Conservation Groups Challenge NC DEQ, Duke Energy Sweetheart Settlement
Parallel action (separate from lawsuit Riverkeeper plaintiffs) another attempt disingenuous attempt by NC DEQ (formerly NC DENR) to let Duke Energy off with minuscule fine and no cleanup requirement
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is fortunate to be represented by good attorneys at the Southern Environmental Law Center. These attorneys can catch and challenge the legal games put forth by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ; formerly DENR) and Duke Energy.
What's going on here? CRF and DEQ are plaintiffs in another lawsuit against Duke Energy for coal ash problems throughout the state. In a separate, parallel administrative action, DEQ sought to fine Duke Energy and was going to -- $25 million for coal ash contamination just at Sutton (near Wilmington). To see just how disingenuous DEQ is about holding Duke accountable, they settled for $7 million -- and had it apply to all 14 sites (average of $500,000/site, a 98% reduction). The settlement also attempted to say that the lawsuits in which we are plaintiffs were also settled. This is why groups all around the state had no hesitation when SELC said the move needed to be challenged. Rest assured, our lawsuits are still very much active. We will continue to fight for cleanups at Allen (Lake Wylie) and Marshall (Lake Norman), just like we got at Riverbend (Mountain Island Lake). This is especially important while hundreds of people around coal ash ponds -- particularly Allen and Marshall -- are living 20 ounces of water at a time because they live near coal ash ponds and have been told they have high levels of contaminants associated with coal ash.
Below is the press release from our attorneys earlier Tuesday:
In a legal challenge filed today, conservation groups across North Carolina asked the state Superior Court to overturn approval of a settlement between Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality over the utility’s coal ash pollution throughout the state. Duke had appealed a monetary penalty at a single site, but the state’s settlement agreement abandons enforcement of groundwater pollution laws at every one of Duke Energy’s fourteen leaking coal ash sites where lawsuits are pending and even provides immunity for future violations.
“The administration twisted a simple penalty dispute into a bad settlement that reneges on its promise to clean up every leaking coal ash pit across North Carolina and does nothing to clean up groundwater at ten sites where coal ash threatens our waterways and communities,” said D.J. Gerken, managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the conservation groups in today’s challenge. “DEQ cut Duke Energy an amazing midnight deal—no real cleanup for the low, low price of $500,000 a power plant including multiple leaking coal ash pits, Duke Energy bought amnesty for all past, present and future violations of groundwater law across North Carolina, including at sites that were not even part of this case.”
In September, the state drew criticism by asking the Superior Court to stop its own coal ash enforcement cases and not order cleanups at three Duke Energy sites. The court concluded that clean ups should proceed at those sites over DEQ’s objection and that the remaining cases would go forward. Last year, the state was forced to abandon a widely criticized settlement proposal that would have allowed Duke Energy to study its coal ash pollution with no cleanup requirements.
“This latest sweetheart settlement shows what happens when Duke Energy and state bureaucrats get in a room together without public scrutiny,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Citizen action has produced cleanup commitments at seven dangerous, polluting coal ash sites in North Carolina so far, in spite of the state and Duke trying for years to block citizens from protecting our rivers, lakes, and drinking water. That’s why we are asking the court to ensure those efforts can continue.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the following citizen groups seeking judicial review of the settlement order: Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverwatch, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Dan River Basin Association, MountainTrue, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Roanoke River Basin Association, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Yadkin Riverkeeper. These groups are also represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center as plaintiff-intervenors in the coal ash enforcement cases currently pending in Superior Court to seek clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution from all 14 leaking Duke Energy sites across North Carolina.