Enviros take NC settlement over Duke Energy coal ash pollution to court

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a legal action this week on behalf of conservation groups seeking to overturn a controversial $7 million settlement between Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality over the utility’s extensive coal ash pollution in the state.

The settlement came after Duke appealed a groundwater pollution penalty at the company’s Sutton plant near Wilmington. The state levied a $25 million fine against the company earlier this year over pollution from the Sutton coal ash pits, which have contaminated Sutton Lake, a popular fishing spot. Groundwater monitoring near the plant has found levels of cancer-causing arsenic 27 times higher than safe groundwater standards just a half-mile from drinking water wells.

Besides lowering the fine against Duke Energy, the settlement also blocks the state from enforcing groundwater pollution laws at the company’s 14 coal-fired plants across North Carolina. The settlement was reached without the involvement or knowledge of the conservation groups that have played a lead role in pressing for action on coal ash pollution through citizen lawsuits under the Clean Water Act and other laws.

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