Duke Energy has agreed to pay an estimated $20 million settlement for groundwater contamination at all 14 of its North Carolina coal-fired plants, reads a release from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
Of that sum, $7 million is for state fines and $10-15 million will be spent to accelerate cleanups at the Asheville Plant, the Sutton Plant near Wilmington, H.F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro and at the Belews Creek Steam Station.
Duke says contaminated groundwater was found outside the boundaries of those plants but has not reached private wells, reports the Charlotte Observer.
“This agreement holds Duke Energy accountable for past groundwater contamination and mandates that Duke Energy expeditiously clean up polluted groundwater near its coal ash sites,” said DEQ Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart in a DEQ release. “Our chief goal is to protect the environment and public health while requiring corrective action to restore groundwater quality. This settlement resolves the issue of fines for past violations and allows DEQ to commit all of its resources to overseeing Duke Energy’s clean-up process.”
The DEQ originally placed a $25.1 million fine against Duke Energy for coal ash contamination at its Sutton facility, but Duke challenged the DEQ’s ability to issue fines based on a 2011 policy memo.
According to the DEQ release, the policy memo did provide for penalties to be assessed under certain circumstances. However, communication between the Perdue administration and Duke Energy discovered during the legal process makes it clear that the intent of the memo was to favor corrective action in lieu of fines.
The McCrory administration will immediately rescind the 2011 policy to clarify that state government has all the tools required to enforce the law and penalize future polluters in addition to requiring clean-up of contaminated sites, reads the release.
“North Carolina looks forward to working with all energy providers to supply clean, affordable power to the citizens of the state while protecting the environment and public health,” said Secretary van der Vaart, in the release.