RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - The NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources has fined Duke Energy Progress $25.1 million for groundwater contamination from coal ash at the Sutton Plant near Wilmington. This is the state's largest-ever penalty for environmental damages.
A spokesperson for the organization said this fine is part of an ongoing effort by this administration to deal with coal ash threats.
According to DENR, "the fine is based on the extent of impacts to groundwater, the characteristics of the constituents causing the impacts and the duration of the violations."
The calculation of the fine is based on a formula taken from state groundwater laws that allows fines to be assessed by multiplying the number of days of the contamination by a civil penalty for each violation.
DENR determined that Duke Energy allowed a host of coal ash contaminants to leach into the groundwater at the sutton facility for several years.
State officials used data from water samples and multiplied the number of days each individual contaminant leached into groundwater.
In its news release the agency says Duke Energy allowed a host of coal ash contaminants to leech into the groundwater at the facility for several years. Specifically, state officials determined that Duke allowed Thallium, a pollutant considered to be a greater public health risk by DENR, to leech into the groundwater at the Sutton Plant for 1,668 days.
Thallium alone resulted in a fine of $8,340,000. Other pollutants found in the contaminated water that are considered to be a great public health risk carried heavier penalties.
"It is a very substantial impact," said van der Vaart when asked about the amount of the fine and the message it sends regarding the severity of the instance. "It's a large area. There was ongoing knowledge of this, so the fine, I think, is commensurate with the impact."
Violations at other Duke Energy facilities could result in additional fines.
"Today's enforcement action continues the aggressive approach this administration has taken on coal ash," said DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart. "In addition to holding the utility accountable for past contamination we have found across the state, we are also moving expeditiously to remove the threat to our waterways and groundwater from coal ash ponds statewide."
Proceeds from the fine will go to a statewide fund for public schools.
Under state law, Duke Energy Progress has 30 days to respond to the fine and may choose to appeal it to the N.C. Office of Administrate Hearings.
Duke Energy Progress released the following statement in response to the fine:
Cape Fear Public Utility Authority released the following statement concerning groundwater contamination near the Sutton Plant: