CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Environmental officials in the state of North Carolina on March 10 fined Duke Energy $25 million over pollution that has been seeping into groundwater for years from a pair of coal ash pits at a retired power plant.
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources called it the state’s largest penalty for environmental damages. It issued the fine over ongoing contamination at the L.V. Sutton Electric Plant outside Wilmington. The site includes a pair of unlined dumps estimated to hold 2.6 million tons of ash.
The state touted the fine as an important development to hold Duke accountable for years of pollution.
But environmental groups said the fine doesn’t force Duke to clean up the pollution—something they’ve been trying to get the $50 billion Charlotte-based company to do for years. Without that, groundwater near Flemington, a largely working-class community, will remain contaminated, said Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper.
Charlotte-based Duke Energy has 30 days to appeal the fine.
The company did not immediately respond to email or phone messages.
The state said monitoring wells near Duke’s dumps at Sutton showed readings exceeding state groundwater standards or boron, thallium, selenium, iron, manganese and other chemicals. Thallium was used for decades as the active ingredient in rat poison until it was banned because it is highly toxic.
With thallium, the state said it determined that Duke allowed the toxic chemical to “leach into groundwater at the Sutton facility for 1,668 days.”
Duke’s 32 coal ash dumps scattered at 14 sites across the state have been under intense scrutiny since last year, when a pipe collapse at the company’s plant in Eden coated 70 miles of the Dan River in grey sludge. The ash, which is the waste left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity, contains toxic heavy metals.
North Carolina lawmakers approved new legislation last year requiring Duke to dig up or cap all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.
And federal prosecutors recently filed multiple criminal charges against Duke over years of illegal pollution leaking from coal ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.