There has been another coal ash disaster and Duke Energy is unsurprisingly involved yet again. Regulators have cited Duke Energy for illegally and deliberately pumping 61 million gallons of toxic coal ash waste into a tributary of the Cape Fear, River. This North Carolina river provides drinking water for several cities and towns in the state.
Duke Energy is notorious for the February Dan River disaster which saw 82,000 tons of coal ash released into state waters. This current incident marks the 8th time in less than a month that the company has been accused of violating environmental regulations. The dumping violated the terms of Duke’s wastewater permit at it’s Cape Fear Plant, according to Jamie Kritzer, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) spokesperson.
Kritzer says the agency has issued Duke Energy a formal notice of violation, which “could result in fines.” Regulators from the agency said the illegal pumping had been going on for months, and yet the threat is one of financial value, a value which is almost certain smaller than the profit they generated by cutting these environmental corners?
The agency says that Duke was taking bright blue waste-water from two of its coal ash pits, and running it through hoses into a nearby canal and drain pipe.
Duke is reportedly permitted to discharge treated wastewater from the ash ponds into the canal, but only water that is filtered through so-called “risers”; pipes that allow heavier residue in the water to settle out.
The agency claims that Duke’s pumping bypassed the risers. DENR Communications Director Drew Elliot said that “We’re concerned with the volume of water that was pumped and the manner it was pumped. It did not go through the treatment facility as it should have.”
This most recent disaster by Duke was discovered after the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance last week released aerial surveillance photos taken from a fixed-wing aircraft that showed Duke workers pumping wastewater from the two toxic coal ash lagoons into a canal.
Waterkeeper Alliance tried to go to the source of pollution via boat but were warned off by plant employees and a policeman, so they resorted to aerial surveillance which can be seen on this clip which appeared on the Rachel Madow Show on MSNBC.
The toxic water that Duke has been allegedly dumping is a byproduct of coal ash, a waste product from coal-fired plants. Coal plants generate millions of tons of waste every year, and that waste is contaminated with toxic metals including lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium, and selenium. More than two-thirds of that waste, called coal ash, is dumped into landfills, storage ponds, or old mines.
Duke Energy is not alone in it’s series of questionable behavior. The DENR itself has earned a good deal of mistrust from environmentalists mostly due to it’s questionable handling of Duke’s many serious environmental violations.
The US Justice Department has recently opened a criminal investigation into the DENR over it’s handling of the February Dan River spill, questioning the relationship between the agency and Duke, a company that was also a 28-year long employer of North Carolina governor Pat McCrory.
Even though Duke will likely pay some fines, it doesn’t bring any justice to those whose drinking water has been polluted by Duke. This doesn’t bring any justice to the animals living in and around this river. If the example set in the BP aftermath, punishing a manager guilty of at least destroying evidence with a $1000 fine and 1 year probation, is any indication then we can expect a sickeningly weak slap on the wrist. Simply giving money to the government regulators won’t clean up the water, and with Duke’s track record, fines obviously won’t stop them from future violations.