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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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You err, we pay?

From an editorial Thursday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

Duke Energy has signed an agreement with North Carolina and Virginia to scrub clean the toxic muck that coats the bed of the Dan River in both states.

Significantly, the pact places no limits on how much Duke may need to spend to fix its big mess. Good. This implies the spending should end only when the job is done. Further, the agreement still allows states to sue Duke if it reneges on its cleanup obligations.

Finally, the pact rightly will have no effect on an ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation of the utility’s possibly too-cozy relationship with lawmakers, state regulators and Gov. Pat McCrory, who is a former Duke employee. That’s a separate issue and should be treated as such.

Even so, some sizable asterisks are attached. For instance, it remains unclear what impact the statewide cleanup will have on Duke customers, who have every right to balk at paying for the utility’s ill-advised use of open and unlined coal ash ponds. An Ohio-based think tank contends that Duke can manage the costs of the cleanup of all 14 of its coal ash storage sites in North Carolina without passing them on to its customers.

The Utilities Commission, which would make the final call on rate increases, shouldn’t take a think tank’s numbers as gospel. Nor should it take Duke’s rebuttal as such.

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