Duke Energy Attempts to Block Citizens' Groups in Coal Ash Case

'Instead of cleaning up, what they’ve done is lawyer up'

Duke Energy is attempting to block citizens' groups from taking part in regulatory action against the company's 14 polluting coal ash dumps across North Carolina.

According to the Associated Press, Duke filed a motion on Monday to remove the citizens’ groups from the case, arguing that the groups ought to be “prohibited from expanding this enforcement action beyond the claims asserted and relief sought by” the state environmental agency.

The energy giant is hoping to block local and environmental organizations from having "any role in the case," leaving litigation and enforcement to state regulators—who have a long history of giving preferential treatment to Duke.

"Duke fears that we would seek to strongly enforce the law against Duke's illegal coal ash pollution and dangerous storage on North Carolina rivers," said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, in an interview with Common Dreams. "Well, they're right. That's exactly what we will do and what we have done."

As AP explains:

The state enforcement case began last year when the environmental law group, working on behalf of a coalition of citizens groups, tried to use the U.S. Clean Water Act to sue Duke in federal court over groundwater pollution leeching from its coal ash dumps.

The state environmental agency instead used its authority to issue violations and take the case to state court, quickly negotiating a settlement involving two plants that would have fined Duke $99,111 with no requirement that the $50 billion company clean up its pollution. The citizens groups protested, calling it a “sweetheart deal” intended to protect Duke from possibly harsher federal penalties.

Following the uproar over the February coal ash spill into the Dan River and amid the ongoing federal probe into the relationship between the utility and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the state agency asked a judge to dismiss the earlier settlement, saying it now intends to pursue enforcement through the court system. Citizens' groups have since intervened in the case.

“What Duke’s CEO has been saying publicly is they accept responsibility," said Holleman. "But instead of cleaning up, what they’ve done is lawyer up. They have filed a legal document in court denying any legal liability whatsoever."

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