The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has charged Duke Energy with illegally pumping up to 61 million gallons of coal-ash wastewater into the Cape River, responding to photos taken by the non-profits Waterkeeper Alliance and Cape Fear Riverkeeper.
The alleged violations occurred from September to last week, the state charged, according to the New York Times. The department could assess the utility as much as $25,000 per day of permit violations – fees that could amount to $5 million.
The environmental groups took the photographs (one of which is shown above) while flying over the decommissioned Cape Fear generating station near Moncure, N.C., and informed state regulators, who visited the plant the next day and found the pumps turned off.
Duke said it was pumping the wastewater as part of preparations for routine maintenance of two coal ash settling ponds.
But regulators are skeptical. “The state’s investigation revealed that the pumping activities ongoing at this plant far exceeded what would reasonably be considered routine maintenance,” said Tom Reeder, director of the department’s water resources division.
Duke is under state and federal investigation for a February 2 spill that dumped 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, coating 70 miles of the waterway. State regulators have charged Duke with violations at Dan River and five other power plants, and the EPA has said it will also address the incidents.
A federal grand jury convened last week in Raleigh as part of a criminal investigation into Duke Energy. Prosecutors have issued at least 23 grand jury subpoenas to company executives and state officials, following claims that regulators were too cozy with Duke.
Takeaway: Duke Energy continues to rack up environmental charges related to its coal-ash wastewater, with the latest stemming from two non-profits’ airborne photos of the company’s operations.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.
Picture credit: Waterkeeper Alliance via flickr