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North Carolina: Where the Politics are as Murky as Coal-Polluted Water

Following coal ash spill, federal probe into ties between North Carolina government and Duke Energy expands

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

North Carolinians protested against Duke Energy at the Forward Together march in Raleigh on Feb. 8 (Photo: Susan Melkisethian/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)Standing outside the Duke Energy Center in Charlotte, North Carolina Tuesday, roughly one hundred protesters chanted, "Shame!"—scolding the company responsible for last month's coal ash spill into the Dan River.

The utility has fallen under increased scrutiny since a federal investigation was initiated into the ties between the administration of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) and the utility company where he worked for 28 years.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh issued subpoenas to Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), demanding all documents related to the Dan River spill.

The probe was expanded last week, when subpoenas were issued to 18 state water-quality officials calling for all communications with Duke going back to 2009 as well as any payments and gifts from the company. Further, NCDENR received another subpoena for "ash-related records for all 14 of Duke’s active and retired coal-fired plants in the state," the Charlotte Observer reports.

Reporting on the probe, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted last week that investigators “appear to be looking to see if anyone got paid off by Duke Energy when they were working for Pat McCrory’s administration to supposedly regulate Duke Energy.”

"These close ties between industry and government, we see that a lot throughout Appalachia," Eric Chance, water quality specialist for the environmental watchdog Appalachian Voices, told Common Dreams. In coal producing states, he continued, "environmental regulatory agencies are pretty much there to do the bidding of the industries they are supposed to regulate."

Chance added that he was glad the ties between government and industry were "getting some attention" with the North Carolina investigation.

Amid this backdrop of corruption allegations, Gov. McCrory and John Skvarla, Secretary of DENR, sent a strongly worded letter to Duke CEO Lynn Good Tuesday calling for all coal ash ponds to be moved away from the state's water resources.

"No more coal ash in unlined ponds. No more leaks that seep into our drinking waters. No more excuses. No more hiding behind political allies. We are here to draw the line, Duke."
—Amy Adams, Appalachian Voices

In response to the letter, Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices, told Common Dreams, "we look forward to McCrory following through on the letter and removing this toxic coal ash from our waterways." She added for emphasis, "we look forward to this action taking place."

Adams was one of the organizers behind Tuesday's demonstration, during which protesters delivered a petition of 9,000 signatures demanding that Duke assume responsibility for the spill by removing the coal ash from the Dan River and to not pass on the costs to utility customers.

"We are here to say no more. No more coal ash in unlined ponds. No more leaks that seep into our drinking waters. No more stalling. No more excuses. No more hiding behind political allies. We are here to draw the line, Duke," Adams told the crowd.

It is now estimated that 35 million gallons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater—enough to fill 53 Olympic-sized swimming pools—spilled into the Dan River from the Duke storage pond, after a team of Wake Forest University researchers flew a drone over the contaminated waterway Tuesday.

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