Duke Energy pays for dodging coal ash problems

After Duke Energy reached a plea agreement over its mishandling of coal ash that spilled into the Dan River, Duke CEO Lynn Good said in a statement, “We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event.”

What Duke Energy has learned is that it’s expensive to be cheap. The giant utility put off the cost of properly storing the millions of tons of coal ash its coal-burning plants produce. The result was regular leakage at most of Duke Energy’s storage sites at 14 power plants in North Carolina and a pipe break at one site that spilled an estimated 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River.

Now Duke hopes to resolve a federal criminal investigation into violations of the Clean Water Act by pleading guilty to nine misdemeanor violations and agreeing to pay $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation. On top of those costs, the utility also expects to spend $1.3 billion to excavate and close five coal ash storage sites in North Carolina and South Carolina.

If money talks, Duke Energy has gotten a heck of a lecture about its environmental misbehavior.

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