- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - An assistant secretary in the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality says he would have levied a heavier fine on Duke Energy than the $25.1 million it was assessed for coal ash violations.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports (https://bit.ly/1LbnuaD) assistant secretary Thomas Reeder said in court filings that if it had been up to him, the fine would have been “about $50 million.” Reeder made the comments to Duke’s lawyers in a June deposition.

“They’ve nuked this whole drinking water source for the Wilmington area,” Reeder said. “Haven’t done anything about it. Haven’t owned up to it. So in my opinion, the penalty should have been a lot more severe than it was.”

Reeder expected the fine would be the first in a string of large penalties against Duke. But the power company agreed in September to pay North Carolina regulators $7 million to settle allegations of groundwater pollution at its coal ash pits and to perform accelerated cleanups costing millions of dollars at four sites.

The agreement came as Duke Energy lawyers and the state were preparing courtroom arguments regarding the $25 million fine over groundwater pollution at a Wilmington plant, the state’s largest-ever penalty for environmental damage.

The settlement resolved that case and any other groundwater contamination allegations by state regulators at Duke Energy’s coal ash basins around the state.

The settlement also triggers accelerated cleanup at the retired Wilmington plant and three other plants that showed signs of offsite groundwater pollution during recent assessments. The state estimated the cleanups would cost between $10 and $15 million total.

Depositions of department officials hinted at the direction the trial would have taken, and exposed strategy sessions and political sensitivities as state officials faced public scrutiny over how they dealt with a mounting coal ash liability.

According to Reeder, what put environmental officials over the edge was Duke’s agreement to pay a $102 million criminal fine to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in February, just weeks before the state proceeded with its fine. Reeder was stunned by Duke’s acquiescence to the EPA.

“You rolled over for the feds and wrote them a check for $100 million and plead guilty to crimes that technically weren’t even crimes,” Reeder told Duke’s lawyers. “You’re not writing us a check. You write the feds a check. You cop a plea. Us, you’re going to take us to court and fight us, when you actually did damage here.”


Information from: The News & Observer, https://www.newsobserver.com

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