Saturday, February 21, 2015

Duke Energy Admits Guilt, And the World Didn't End

The three U.S. attorneys for the Eastern, Middle, and Western districts of NC filed criminal charges against Duke Energy yesterday for illegally dumping coal ash at coal-fired power plants in Eden, Moncure, Asheville, Goldsboro, and Mt. Holly.

Simultaneously, Duke Energy said that it has already negotiated a plea agreement under which it will admit guilt, pay diddly squat $102 million in fines, restitution, and community service, and make their shareholders bear the costs of the settlement rather than pass on the costs to its electricity customers.

"We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event," said Lynn Good, Duke's president and CEO.

Pigs just took flight. "We are accountable," said Duke Energy, the same company that has spent years stoutly denying any fault on their part.

"It's not just a slap on the wrist," said Kemp Burdette, of Cape Fear River Watch. "A $100 million fine is a significant one." "Anybody who agrees to pay $100 million is confirming that they did something wrong," said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "Duke Energy cannot buy its way out of its coal ash scandal. It has to clean its way out."

Okay, okay. Guess we'll have to take your word for it, Mr. Burdette and Mr. Holleman. But for the largest energy producer in the nation, and for such a flagrant scofflaw, seems like a puny fine to us. But we'll let that go.

LEST WE FORGET, there is still this other small piece of history: 
After numerous environmental groups sued to force Duke to clean up its act -- because North Carolina's regulators weren't doing their job -- the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked the citizen lawsuits, intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the federal Clean Water Act to take "enforcement action" in state court.

The administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, who worked at Duke for 29 years, then proposed a sweetheart deal under which Duke Energy would have paid fines of just $99,111 to settle violations over toxic groundwater leeching from two of its plants. That agreement, which included no requirement that Duke immediately stop or clean up the pollution, was pulled amid intense criticism after the Dan River spill.

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