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Duke seems to have friends in right places

State regulators announced Monday that they were citing Duke Energy for not having certain permits the law requires. State regulators did not announce why they let Duke skate for years without the permits, even though they had known since at least 2011 that Duke did not have them.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Duke was issued notices of violation late Friday for failing to have storm water permits at six of its N.C. power plants. That came only after a 48-inch storm water pipe without a permit ruptured at Duke’s Eden plant, spilling some 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River.

Federal law requires Duke have the permits to discharge rain water from its plants into public bodies of water. Securing the permits might have flagged warning signs that something was wrong before the pipe broke.

The Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker reported last week that the state had been talking with Duke since 2011 about the permits. A state spokeswoman said “that issue had not been resolved by the time of the spill,” Biesecker reported.

Maybe this should surprise no one. It has become clear since Duke’s catastrophic spill in Eden that the massive utility’s relationship with the state appears disturbingly cozy. That DENR would knowingly allow Duke to operate without required permits is just one more example.

A front-page story in the New York Times on Saturday detailed the extent to which DENR has been “defanged” since Republicans took over the legislature and Pat McCrory became governor. Employees reported pressure to kowtow to industry over protecting the environment. They said they feared for their jobs if they enforced regulations against developers and others.

But coddling big business is a bipartisan pastime.

Observer reporter Bruce Henderson on Sunday detailed how opaque Duke is with its records about its coal ash basins – and how the state not only tolerates that but actually codified it into law.

In 2010, Henderson reported, the legislature – then controlled by Democrats – put the dam-safety office in charge of ash pond inspections. At the same time lawmakers said Duke didn’t have to share with regulators its internal documents about the ash basins and their stability.

State engineer Steve McEvoy told Henderson that Duke cites the legislation in refusing to provide information the state sought. “That’s a bit of a hindrance,” McEvoy said.

So, let’s see. As 5 billion pounds of coal ash stew just yards from Charlotte’s drinking supply, we have: a legislature that caters to Duke in bipartisan fashion; a state regulatory agency that environmental advocates say “has been a barrier at every turn,” and a governor who is a former longtime Duke Energy employee who has waffled on how to respond to the third-largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.

DENR and Duke appear before a criminal grand jury March 18.

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