After receiving nearly 5,000 comments from the public, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Friday it had recommended several changes to the proposed consent order in two of its environmental compliance lawsuits against Duke Energy.
The state sought injunctions earlier this year for water contaminated by ash at Duke’s Asheville Steam Electric Generating Plant in Buncombe County and Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County. The department also has suits relating to the other 12 Duke-owned coal ash facilities in the state.
The recommendations announced Friday follow a 30-day public comment period that ended Aug. 14. The comment period stemmed from a settlement proposed in July, in which Duke agreed to assess the sources and extent of contamination, and to pay a $99,000 fine.
A Wake County Superior Court judge will rule on the proposal once it’s presented in final form.
The state recommended changes such as tighter timelines for Duke to provide various documents, establishing a timeline for document review by the state, expanding what will be monitored at unpermitted discharges, and stronger language on corrective action, according to the state.
DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer said the recommendations will be detailed early next week. He said public comments helped determine the recommendations that were made.
“We realized there is significant public interest in this issue, and people deserve and have the right to give their opinions on how we proceed,” Kritzer said.
Frank Holleman – a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is party to the two lawsuits – said the state’s recommendations are mostly cosmetic and don’t accurately reflect the public’s comments. “(The state) disregarded the views of thousands of North Carolinians and has failed to require Duke Energy to clean up its pollution of Mountain Island Lake, the Charlotte region’s drinking water supply,” Holleman said in an email. “DENR is listening only to Duke, and the minor changes it proposes to the settlement merely ask Duke to do nothing, faster.”
Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the utility takes environmental responsibility seriously and meets the state’s water quality standards. “Utility critics are working to generate concern to ultimately seek an end to the use of coal as an affordable fuel source,” she said.
“Water quality monitoring in both the French Broad River and Mountain Island Lake shows no evidence that plant operations have adversely affected those water bodies,” she said. “Water quality in both continues to be good, and fish are healthy.”
Duke’s Riverbend facility closed in April, two years ahead of schedule, and Culbert said the utility already has committed to properly closing its ash basins. “Critics continue to say that ‘tweaks’ to the consent order aren’t enough,” she said. “In reality, regulators need the outcome of these studies to make informed decisions about whether corrective steps are needed, and what those are.”
Kritzer did not have an estimate on when the final consent order will be filed, or whether the judge will consider it at a hearing Oct. 11.
Holleman said once the consent order is filed, the law center will ask the court for time to gather “complete information, so the court and public will know the full story and extent of the pollution before the court makes a decision. “We’ll be there to push for a real cleanup of the pollution and not a settlement that does not accomplish a cleanup.”
Staff writer Bruce Henderson contributed.
Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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