Duke Energy could face penalties over coal ash ponds

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Duke Energy could face penalties over coal ash ponds (WTVD)

North Carolina environmental officials told Duke Energy Friday that the state may penalize the company over wastewater leaks from coal ash ponds at 12 facilities.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Quality notified Duke Energy in a series of letters of violations at 12 of its coal plants. The notices tell the energy giant the state "is considering" civil penalties and gives the company 30 days to respond.

In 12 separate letters, Water Quality Permitting Section Chief Jeffrey O. Poupart said a review of documents and records "indicates there are unauthorized discharges of wastewater from the area around the subject facility's coal ash basin." These are commonly referred to as "seeps" and indicate areas around the berm walls of the unlined coal ash pits where wastewater is "seeping" through, often going straight into rivers and lakes.

Poupart added that "additional violations may be identified should these discharges be found to have caused exceedances of quality standards."

DEQ says penalties for Duke Energy could include fines of up to $10,000 a day for every day the facility is out of compliance.

Environmental groups panned the notices, accusing DEQ of playing "press release politics."

"They're proposing penalties and not doing one thing to clean up these sites," said Frank Holleman with the Southern Environmental Law Center, based in Chapel Hill. "A penalty will not do any of these communities one bit of good."

Stephanie Hawco, DEQ spokesperson, said the violations are not political in nature, but an enforcement action.

"The violations are an additional step in holding Duke Energy accountable for many decades of mismanaging coal ash," said Hawco.

Holleman points out the notices don't specify how many violations or spell out what the penalties might be. "What these communities need is to have that ash taken out of those leaky pits and put into safe storage away from the water."

Following the release of the letters, Duke Energy released a statement that said in part: "The best way to reduce or eliminate seeps altogether is to safely remove the water from ash basins and close them in ways that protect people and the environment. That's exactly what Duke Energy is doing right now."

"There is nothing new here," the statement went on to read. "Even the state environmental regulator acknowledges that seeps occur at every earthen impoundment, and those at ash basins are not impacting water quality. We are doing everything the state has asked to address seeps, including cataloguing, testing and monitoring them."

Earlier this year, Duke Energy gave ABC11 an inside look at coal ash cleanup. Click here to read more
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