The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) knew since at least last August that Duke Energy was illegally polluting the Dan River with coal ash, yet the agency did nothing about it.
That inaction proved to be disastrous, when seven months later, Duke Energy employees discovered the utility’s coal ash pond in Eden was leaking 30,000–39,000 tons of coal ash and contaminated material into the river, the third-largest such accident in North Carolina history.
In the weeks following the Feb. 2 spill, Duke Energy and DENR, under Gov. Pat McCrory—previously a 28-year employee of the utility—have come under federal investigation. The details of that investigation have not been released, but close observers think the probe will focus on how DENR used the federal Clean Water Act to run interference for Duke Energy.
“The Clean Water Act delegates responsibility and authority to this agency to enforce the law,” DENR Secretary John Skvarla said at a press conference last Wednesday, adding that DENR didn’t hesitate to “initiate action.”
However, DENR’s own data, collected from 2011–2013, shows that the groundwater near Duke Energy’s Dan River plant had been contaminated with toxic coal ash but the agency did nothing about it. Meanwhile, it used legal maneuvers to prevent citizens groups from suing the utility. Continue reading