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Nonprofits Ask Court to Toss Duke Energy Deal

(CN) - Six nonprofit conservation group filed a joint motion to overturn the largest environmental settlement in North Carolina history and hold Duke Energy to account for groundwater contamination at a now-closed plant.

A $7 million agreement between Duke Energy and the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality was approved by Administrative Law Judge Phil Berger on Sept. 29.

Cape Fear River Watch and five other organizations represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a motion on Tuesday asking a Superior Court judge to vacate the agreement which they claim removes incentives for the utility to quickly clean up contamination at several coal ash dump sites around the state.

According to the filing, Duke was originally assessed an "appropriate" $25 million fine before Judge Berger overturned it.

In addition from addressing the reduced fine, the petition also contends that Berger's order is too broad and lets Duke Energy off the hook for the majority of its violations.

The settlement claims it is a "full and comprehensive resolution of all other potential groundwater controversies at the plants," but the petitioners disagree.

Duke Energy has been an ongoing subject of controversy among environmental groups, and the Sutton plant is just one of Duke Energy's 14 unlined coal ash pits that the groups claim leak into nearby rivers, streams and groundwater. They say that the judge's order exceeded its authority and jurisdiction by implying that it resolved claims beyond the Sutton penalty action.

The conservationists seek to vacate Berger's order and enter a modified order of dismissal in order for the judge to specifically address the contamination at the Sutton plant as he did not have proper information regarding all of Duke Energy's other coal ash pits.

They are represented by Frank Holleman III, of the Southern Environmental Law Center's Chapel Hill, N.C. office, and Austin Gerken Jr., of the organization's Asheville office.


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