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Environmental group challenges Duke Energy settlement

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An environmental group is challenging Duke Energy's coal ash settlement (WTVD)

A Superior Court judge has sided with environmentalists who challenged a settlement agreement reached between Duke Energy and the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

Frank Holleman, a lawyer for the environmental group challenging the settlement, the Southern Environmental Law Center, called the settlement a "remarkable" document in terms of what it requires of Duke.


Instead of the $25 million fine first proposed by DEQ for groundwater contamination violations at Duke Energy's Sutton plant in Wilmington, the state and Duke reached a settlement of $7 million at all of Duke's coal sites.

"There's no question it was a sweetheart deal," Holleman said. "They proposed to fine Duke energy $25 million for just one site and then they accepted $7 million for 14 sites. And simple math tells you that's $500 thousand a site. And simple math tells you that's a 98 percent [fine] reduction at the one site."

But the settlement went further than a fine and that's what caught the attention of Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway.

"It is a bit surprising that in a penalty case over one plant," Ridgeway told one of Duke's lawyers, "it developed into a comprehensive settlement as this. I've read it three times now and it says it's 'a fair and comprehensive resolution of all potential groundwater controversies at the plants.' That doesn't have anything to do with penalties."

In addition to past contamination at Duke's coal facilities, the settlement would also apply to present and future ground contamination, including claims that are currently pending in court.

Ridgeway pointed out that the administration that green-lighted the settlement didn't have jurisdiction beyond financial penalties, and said he would take up consideration of non-financial considerations in the agreement.

Holleman says that's where the issue belongs.

"Whether that settlement gets rid of any groundwater claims of the public will be determined by the Superior Court after full discovery and gathering of evidence and a ruling on the record, in public that everyone can see."

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