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Duke Energy shareholders sue over coal ash spill

Two shareholders of Charlotte, NC-based Duke Energy have filed suit against the company, accusing it of negligence surrounding the February 2nd spill of about 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, near Eden, NC, that created a polluted slick stretching some 70 miles. The shareholders are accusing the board of exposing the company to billions of dollars in liability by neglecting to clean up coal ash ponds throughout the state.

“For years, the individual defendants have known that the company's coal ash containment was inadequate and posed a significant threat to the environment yet utterly failed to take appropriate action to fix the substantial problems,” the lawsuit states. “As a result of the individual defendants’ unlawful conduct, Duke Energy has expended and will continue to expend billions of dollars in fines, penalties and clean-up costs.”

The lawsuit, filed by shareholders Edward Tansey and the Police Retirement System of St. Louis, names Lynn Good, Duke’s CEO, Keith Trent, the company’s COO, and 14 current directors. The shareholders are asking Duke to strengthen controls surrounding coal ash disposal to comply with federal and state regulations.

Coal ash includes many heavy metals and known carcinogens, Greenpeace field organizer Monica Embrey told Government Security News. The ash is known to cause public health problems, including cancer, she said. “You won’t be able to fish in that river for many, many years. It’s unhealthy to go swimming or rafting in it.” The spill occurred when a pipe collapsed at a retired Dan River coal-fired power plant.

In Duke’s latest effort to clean up the spill, the energy company just announced that it has signed an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which will now oversee the ongoing cleaning effort. Duke will reimburse the government for its oversight costs, including the agency’s past response costs to the spill, according to the agency.

"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.”

"This agreement represents a significant milestone in Duke Energy’s ongoing efforts to restore and monitor the Dan River and surrounding environment,” said Duke Energy, in a statement. “Duke Energy is fully committed to the river’s long-term health and well-being. River water quality has returned to normal and drinking water has remained safe."

In response to the spill, Duke announced that, among many other efforts to clean up the existing spill and safeguard coal ash, it would engage third-party engineering experts to assess all of the company’s ash basins by May 31. Immediate action will be taken to address any significant issues, according to Paul Newton, Duke’s North Carolina state president. Duke takes “full responsibility” for the spill.

There are 676 ash basins in the U.S., according to the EPA, and Duke Energy has 33 in North Carolina, about half of which are inactive. All of Duke’s unlined waste pits, containing more than 100 million tons of ash, are contaminating ground water, according to some environmentalists.



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