Criminal charges filed against Duke Energy

February 24, 2015

Duke Energy is facing federal criminal charges for pollution at five North Carolina power plants, including its Asheville facility. 

Three U.S. Attorney's Offices charged Duke with violations of the Clean Water Act, alleging that the nation's largest electricity company had been illegally dumping millions of gallons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina since 2010. 

Frank Holleman, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center who has represented several environmental groups who have sued Duke over the years said in an email to Citizen-Times, "We informed Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources of these violations of the Clean Water Act in 2013, yet Duke Energy's polluting coal ash storage has yet to be cleaned up and has now resulted in criminal prosecutions." He added that Duke would not be able to dodge these charges, and would be forced to clean up its act.

Duke Energy, however, has no plans to contest the charges. Instead it has reached a proposed agreement with the federal government. If approved the plea bargain would require the company to pay a total of $102.2 million, out of which $68.2 million would be fines and $34 million would be spent on community service and projects to help repair the damage caused by the pollution. In return, the U.S government would close its investigation of Duke Energy and subsidiaries. 

In a statement Lynn Good, Duke's president and CEO, stated that they were accountable for what happened at Dan River and had learned from their past mistakes. She added that safe operations and the well-being of the communities they served were Duke's highest priorities.

Companies should regularly meet with environmental consultants, who can conduct assessments of all business processes and ensure compliance with federal regulations.