Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good defended her company’s response to the February coal ash spill into the Dan River, saying Duke will “continue to cooperate” with inquiries into the event.
Good did not stray far Wednesday from Duke’s previous public statements. She sidestepped questions that probed the differences between those statements and Duke’s legal positions.
Duke calls the Feb. 2 Dan River spill an accident for which it takes responsibility.
But Duke responded to four state lawsuits over ash contamination at its North Carolina plants this week by saying other discharges from its ash ponds were allowed by state permits.
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“We have responsibility and maintain our commitment to safe, reliable operations,” Good told reporters after speaking to a Hood Hargett Breakfast Club lunch meeting. “We’re committed to water quality, we’re committed to the environment. And as a result of Dan River, the conversation has moved to the policy of ash management and ash (pond) closure.
“We’ve put together a very credible and thoughtful plan on how to move forward and will be working constructively with regulators and with policy makers to put together a plan that makes sense for North Carolina.”
Duke filed legal motions this week to minimize the role of advocacy groups who have joined the four lawsuits filed by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Those groups, which include the Charlotte-based Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, have criticized DENR for being too soft on Duke.
“It has been our position that DENR represents the citizens of North Carolina,” Good said. “I believe ultimately the court will have to make that decision, and we are moving forward with the plan that we have outlined.”
Duke says it will remove ash from ponds at its Riverbend power plant west of Charlotte and from the Dan River plant. It will continue moving ash from its Asheville plant. Other plants will move to dry-ash handling as outside engineers evaluate the company’s ash operations.
“Our highest priority is to work through this in a way that demonstrates lessons learned and our commitment to safe operations,” Good said.
Duke has bought full-page newspaper ads and written state legislators to apologize for the spill.
But it hasn’t taken the step Gov. Pat McCrory and many members of the public, according to polls, want to see: committing to remove all ash that is stored near water that could become contaminated.
“I appreciate that there are a number of people who have a point of view about the way we’ve handled this situation,” Good told reporters.
Duke says it will bear the costs of the Dan River cleanup but expects to ask state regulators to make customers pay for closing its 33 ash ponds across North Carolina.
Good told the Hood Hargett lunch meeting that “we need to continue to think about balance” between environmental protection and meeting electricity needs.
Noting the state’s 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act, which curbed air pollution from power plants, she said the Dan spill offers an “opportunity for Duke and North Carolina to lead” on ash policies.
“Our commitment to all of you is that Duke will do the right thing,” she said.