The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Thursday that it and Duke Energy of North Carolina agreed on a plan to clean up the energy company’s massive coal ash spill that flooded the Dan River with about 40,000 tons of toxic coal waste February 2.
According to the terms of the agreement, the EPA will supervise Duke Energy’s spill cleanup efforts. The North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and federal wildlife officials will also provide input and consultation.
Duke is required to reimburse the EPA for all costs the agency incurs in its oversight of the spill in addition to all expenses the government has already racked up addressing the spill. Should Duke Energy fail to comply with the agreement, it will pay fines of up to $8,000 per day. The agreement also requires Duke to pay the EPA $500,000 if the agency has to take over the cleanup response.
So far, the EPA has asked Duke Energy to reimburse it less than $1 million for its cleanup efforts, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“EPA will work with Duke Energy to ensure that cleanup at the site, and affected areas, is comprehensive based on sound scientific and ecological principles, complies with all Federal and State environmental standards, and moves as quickly as possible,” said EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney. “Protection of public health and safety remains a primary concern, along with the long-term ecological health of the Dan River.”
Federal oversight of Duke Energy’s cleanup efforts have become a necessity, given the company’s political ties and the failure of the state’s agencies to hold Duke Energy accountable for its widespread pollution.
Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that environmental groups tried to sue Duke Energy three times in 2013 to force the company to clean up its 33 coal ash dumps throughout the state. The environmental groups took legal action after state regulators failed to act on evidence provided by conservationists of groundwater contamination caused by Duke’s toxic sludge ponds, including high levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, zinc, and other heavy metals and toxins.
“Each time, the state agency blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the act to take enforcement action in state court” the AP reported. “After negotiating with the company, the state proposed settlements that environmentalists regarded as highly favorable to the company.”
Meanwhile, as summer approaches, federal officials are warning people to stay out of the contaminated river, where toxic sludge from the Duke Energy spill still lines miles of the river bottom. The EPA also considers the spill to pose a substantial threat to wildlife in the area.
“Conditions resulting from the coal ash release at the Dan River Steam Station present a substantial threat to public health or welfare and the environment if not properly managed,” the EPA said in the agreement. “Human exposure may occur should large deposits of ash accumulate on areas used for recreation.”