As a federal grand jury opens Tuesday, marking a milestone in the U.S. government's criminal investigation into Duke Energy's coal ash disaster and state regulators' complicity, residents and environmental groups are demanding the multi-billion dollar corporation clean up its pollution and shut down its leaking dumps.
"There have been over a dozen community and environmental groups organizing rallies and press conferences calling on Duke Energy to clean up the Dan River, close all wet impoundments in North Carolina, and pay for the costs to clean up rivers and ash ponds," said Kara Dodson of Appalachian Voices in an interview with Common Dreams. "The grand jury is an opportunity to highlight statewide concerns about one company ruling politics in the state."
The grand jury commenced Tuesday at a federal courthouse in Raleigh. While U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Thomas Walker declined to comment to the Associated Press about the proceedings, prosecutors have issued nearly two dozen subpoenas for records from Duke Energy, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the state Utilities Commission.
Internal documents released to the Southern Environmental Law Center show that state regulators colluded with Duke Energy to protect the company from environmental lawsuits under the Clean Water Act, as previously reported by Common Dreams.
Furthermore, the Associated Press reports that Duke Energy lobbyists successfully pushed the GOP-controlled state government to pass legislation that shields the corporation from responsibility for cleaning up leaking coal ash dumps.
Environmental groups say Duke Energy's influence in state politics extends all the way up to the highest echelons of power, including Governor Pat McCrory — who previously worked at Duke Energy for 28 years.
This has allowed the company to release ongoing pollution from its nearly three dozen coal ash dumps at 14 power plants across the state, said Dodson. "At the center of coal ash pollution are people who live near these ponds and downstream," she said. "Every day, in all of the coal ash ponds across the state, there are people affected with health issues."
The grand jury follows photographs released Monday by environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance showing Duke Energy pumping contaminated water from two of Duke Energy’s coal ash dumps into a canal that leads to North Carolina's Cape Fear River.