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Duke Energy to Pay|$102M for Coal Spill

(CN) - The nation's largest electric power holding company will pay $102 million to clean up a 2014 coal ash spill in North Carolina's Dan River.

Duke Energy's agreement with federal regulators identified nine misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act in connection with the February 2, 2014, spill and the operations of other utility facility around the state.

"We are accountable for what happened at the Dan River and have learned from this event," CEO Lyn Good said in a statement.

Duke Energy has long been in the crosshairs of environmental activists in the state who've have filed a number of lawsuits over the years seeking tighter control and clean-up of sites where toxic coal ash has accumulated.

On February 2, 2014, a storm water pipe under a coal ash basin broke at the retired Dan River Steam Station, releasing 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river, which is traverses Rockingham County, N.C.

The gray toxic sludge, containing arsenic, selenium, chromium, and mercury, contaminated the river for more than 70 miles.

The U.S. Attorney's Offices for the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts of North Carolina, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, filed criminal charges on February 20 against three subsidiaries of Duke Energy Corporation, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act at plants in Rockingham, Chatham, Buncombe, Wayne, and Gaston counties.

Attorneys for the Middle and Western Districts also filed papers asking their courts to transfer the cases to the Eastern District of North Carolina.

On Monday, Duke signed an agreement with environmental officials in North Carolina and Virginia to clean up the Dan River and said the agreement, if approved by a judge, would close the investigation and resolve nine misdemeanor Clean Water Act violations related to the spill. Duke signed a similar agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency last month.

The company has agreed to pay $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation projects. The company must also pay for government agencies to continue to monitor the spill's impact on aquatic life.

Duke, which stated that it was "sorry for the Dan River spill," has promised not to pass on the costs to customers; instead, it said, shareholders will take the financial hit.

Environmental groups are happy about the settlement.

"It's not just a slap on the wrist," Kemp Burdette of Cape Fear River Watch told the Associated Press. "A $100 million fine is a significant one. It confirms what we've been saying all along. It's good to finally have somebody say, 'You're right. Duke was illegally polluting waterways across North Carolina and it was criminal. It wasn't an accident.'"

The agreement includes a five-year probationary period under a court-appointed monitor. Duke has announced that it is moving to close all of the company's coal ash basins, including the 32 basins in North Carolina.

The company said it is recycling nearly half of the coal ash currently produced and "is aggressively looking for innovative new options to safely reuse even more of the material."

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