Duke Energy’s CEO Lynn Good said that its customers will pay the costs of cleaning up dozens of the company’s toxic waste sites throughout North Carolina, many of which are contaminating the groundwater with arsenic and heavy metals.
Last week, a North Carolina Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Southern Environmental Law Center, ordering Duke to take “immediate action” to stop its 33 coal ash ponds across the state from further contaminating the groundwater with arsenic, mercury, lead, and several other toxic heavy metals and contaminants.
The order was issued after one of Duke’s coal ash ponds spilled 35 million gallons of hazardous waste into the Dan River Feb. 2, smothering 70 miles of the waterway with toxic sludge. The spill occurred when a pipe in the pond burst. A separate containment area failed to keep the waste, generated by the power company’s coal burning operations, from reaching the river.
A lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center told the News & Observer that “Duke has profited from doing the cheapest thing for decades and it’s now time for them to pay the bill.”
After the Dan River disaster, state officials found two storm drains that Duke had built without a permit. Both are leaking coal ash waste into the river.
Duke Energy has faced legal action several times in the past from the federal government and environmental groups trying to force the energy giant, the largest electrical company in the U.S., to clean up its toxic waste sites, but regulators with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked the actions each time.
Now that a major disaster has occurred, as the Cape Fear River Watch, the Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Western North Carolina Alliance, and other environmental groups warned about, Duke said its customers will likely shoulder the estimated $1-billion cleanup bill.
“Because that ash was created over decades for the generation of electricity, we do believe that ash-pond disposal costs are ultimately part of our cost structure,” CEO Good told the Charlotte Observer. “But the determination of payment will be up to the North Carolina Utilities Commission and how they handle that, so I think that’s something that will unfold over time.”
If millions of North Carolinians could choose between competing electrical companies, Duke Energy probably wouldn’t be so cavalier about cleaning up after itself and sticking its customers with the tab. As it is, the North Carolina Utilities Commission may side with Duke, meaning that customers could pay up to 75 cents more for electricity each month over the next 15 years.