Duke Energy Fined $6.6 Million For Massive Coal Waste Spill

North Carolina environmental regulators fined Duke Energy $6.6 million this week for the company’s role in a 2014 coal ash spill that sent millions of gallons of contaminated water into the state’s Dan River. If you ask me, that isn’t nearly enough when you consider one study from 2015 estimated the ecological, recreational, aesthetic, and human health damages from the spill totaled $295,485,000. And that study looked at only the first six months after the spill, meaning the total damage could end up being higher.

The fine covers violations Duke Energy pleaded guilty to in federal court last year. In February of 2014, 39,000 tons of coal ash — a toxic byproduct of coal burning that can contain lead, mercury, and arsenic — and 27 million gallons of contaminated water leaked from a storage pond at a closed Duke power plant in North Carolina into the Dan River. It was later discovered that Duke was warned about the potential for leaks from the storage pond before the spill occurred, but the company ignored these warnings.

The fine was handed down to the company by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental quality, and joins the $2.5 million settlement Duke agreed to with the state of Virginia, which was also impacted by the spill. It also joins the $102 million in fines and restitution related to the spill Duke agreed to pay in May of last year.

Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said that seeing Duke fined for the disaster isn’t the main thing his group is concerned about. “A fine like this against a multi-billion dollar company like Duke is nearly symbolic,” he said. “We really are not interested in fines. We’re interested in preventing disasters so that no fines will ever have to be assessed.”

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