Duke Energy

When North Carolina economics and Indiana discrimination collide

The antics of heavy handed discrimination regarding others is by now, getting very tiresome. Whether on a state or national level, Republicans frequently interject their self-righteousness and indignation among those they were elected to serve. While this isn’t a new phenomenon, the amount of laws (by percentage) as a part of all laws either sponsored, voted on or passed; and which specifically denounces the interests and views of citizens today, is remarkable.

Coal Ash Wednesday: A fait accompli for Lee County

County Manager breaks the bad news:

If residents want to see who voted to place coal ash in Lee County, go to the North Carolina Legislature’s webpage and pull Senate Bill 729 from the 2014 session. Make sure you see who sponsored the bill. They are the ones who developed the plans to place coal ash in clay mine pits in North Carolina. Because Lee County is the clay/brick capital of North Carolina, the bill gave Duke the right to place coal ash in the county without approval of the local government.

A vote to move forward on the recent financial agreement offered by Duke is not a vote to put the coal ash in Lee County – that already was done by the legislature, just like fracking. A vote in favor of the agreement is to accept money from Duke that will hopefully help the community overcome the stigma of having a coal ash storage facility. Voting against the agreement will mean we won't get the money and coal ash will, in all likelihood, come anyway.

My initial reaction to this op-ed was to say, "It ain't over 'til it's over." Republicans in the General Assembly might consider themselves all-powerful, but the courts so far have shown that feeling to be mistaken. Several of their more outrageous moves have been delayed, blocked, or simply ruled unconstitutional. That being said, I'm not the one trying to manage a county on what has to be a shoestring budget. And he's right about the legislation he referenced:

Duke's Outsourced Coal Ash Lies Hit Lee County

Duke Outsourcing Its Coal Ash Lies

Duke Energy’s coal ash problem has hit another snag this week. According to The Rant, Charah, Inc. (the company Duke has contracted to handle its coal ash) lied on its permit requests with the state twice.

First, Charah claimed the clay mine they would be using for the coal ash dump would be returned “to its original topography” and that the dumping would “take place outside of a 50-foot buffer zone from any wetlands.”

However, as Sanford’s Environmental Affairs Board found out last night, these are both not true. Charah will pile coal ash 50 to 60 feet higher than the original topography, and Charah has since “applied for four permits to mitigate damage to wetlands” that are supposed to be protected by the 50-foot buffer.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke fined $25 million for Sutton leaks

Apparently DENR does still have some teeth:

The agency fined the utility $25.1 million for several years of leaking coal ash that polluted groundwater around the Sutton plant. The penalty also includes the state’s investigative costs. The state also hinted yesterday that more fines for groundwater violations at other Duke power plants could be coming.

The penalty dwarfed the previous record $5.6 million fine that the state issued in 1986 against Texasgulf Chemicals, now PCS Phosphate, for air emission violations at its phosphate mine and fertilizer plant on the Pamlico River in Beaufort County.

It's probably a sign I've been doing this political blogging thing too long, but the first thought that percolated from my brain was, "There's more than one way to make up your budget shortfalls." Where will that $25 million go? In a civil suit settlement, the judge often points a finger in the direction the money should be spent, but this is different. I'll see what I can find out.

What does it mean to be a good corporate citizen?

I want to like Duke Energy. Really I do. They're a giant company and they could do so much good. In fact, they do do a lot of good. Except when they lie. The Dan River spill was the result of convenient neglect and what should be considered criminal coverup. The risks were created knowingly over decades in concert with a toothless DENR. And now we get a bunch of double talk?

You can't lie and be a good corporate citizen.

My advice to Duke Energy is to come clean. Confess your transgressions and promise to do everything you can to be a better company. Use this as a learning moment. Move us rapidly toward renewables. Embrace citizen producers. Be honest and fair in your dealings. Actually put people before profits. You could do this if you wanted to. And you'd win beyond your wildest dreams. So why don't you?

Coal Ash Wednesday: Friday news dump with Kool-Aid chaser

It's pretty bad when Florida doesn't approve of your behavior:

The country's biggest power company, the parent of Duke Energy Florida, invoked a classic PR move last week by issuing a news release at 4:20 p.m. on a Friday, shortly before the end of the workweek.
That timing often signals something bad has happened that the culprit hopes will get ignored in the weekend crush.

After reading Duke's spin, I felt like I should send flowers to the company for going the extra mile in hard times. But let's skip the Kool-Aid and look at what Duke chose not to acknowledge. Duke's is not pursuing a "proposed agreement" but pleading guilty to multiple environmental crimes — nine violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

All things considered, it is a fairly hefty fine for environmental wrongdoings. The massive TVA spill of a few years before, which released over a billion gallons of coal ash downstream, only cost the TVA $11.5 million in fines and $27.8 million in a class-action suit from affected landowners. But the funny (or not-so-funny) thing about comparing the two is: TVA has cleaned up and properly disposed of between 75%-85% of that 1.1 billion gallons spilled, while Duke Energy left over 90% of their spilled coal ash in the Dan River. One of many reasons their $102 million in fines is simply not enough.

For Duke Energy, everything is negotiable

Even their "punishment" for crimes committed:

Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility, accusing the company of violating the federal Clean Water Act by illegally dumping millions of gallons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina. They also accused the company of failing to maintain equipment around at least two plants.

Duke said Friday that it had already negotiated a plea agreement under which it expected to pay fines.

And in true cart-before-the-horse fashion, the fines just happen to be slightly larger than the dollar figure Duke decided it was prepared to pay...when? A few months ago? If this investigation and the charges that resulted are supposed to make us feel better about how justice is rendered in this country, it's a big, fat failure.

Coal Ash Wednesday: The $100 million bribe

When buying off a grand jury is simply the cost of doing business:

Duke Energy expects to pay $100 million to resolve a federal criminal grand jury investigation of its coal ash management, the company said in an earnings report Wednesday.

“The company expects a proposed agreement could be reached and filed in the next several days for consideration by the court,” Duke said in its earnings report. “If approved, the proposed agreement would resolve the ongoing grand jury investigation of the company’s coal ash basin management.”

I wasn't aware you could "settle" a criminal investigation, at least not openly and brazenly. Then again, this is Duke Energy we're talking about; they have their own set of rules "governing" their behavior, that usually hinge on sacred words and numbers like these:

Coal Ash Wednesday: The deadly ingredients

Thanks to Physicians for Social Responsibility for outlining the harms:

Arsenic: It has long been known that arsenic, if ingested in very high levels, is deadly. However, lower levels of exposure are also harmful and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; anemia and decreased production of the white, infection-fighting blood cells; abnormal heart rhythms; blood vessel damage; numbness in the hands and feet; partial paralysis; and decreased vision, even blindness. Repeated low levels of exposure over an extended period of time can produce effects similar to a one-time high level of exposure, and chronic exposure to low levels can cause skin cancer. Arsenic has also been linked to cancers of the lung, bladder, kidney, liver and prostate.

Contaminated drinking water is a primary route of arsenic exposure. Exposure from birth may increase urinary cancer risk much later in life, suggesting that people whose drinking water is contaminated by arsenic from coal ash should be monitored long-term for this cancer, even if they stop drinking the contaminated water.

I know a lot of environmental advocates who are energetic as all get-out, but lacking somewhat in the details. Energy is important, but you need some basic factual tools at your disposal if you want to persuade others the danger is real. Understanding the toxics involved and their deleterious effect on our health is likely the best tool you could wield in that effort:

Coal Ash Wednesday: The contamination continues

The only thing that's ceased is the outrage and determination from lawmakers to fix the problem:

The more that the scientists look, the more problems they find – for example, arsenic in a drinking water reservoir, contaminated well water, fish kills, polluted groundwater. All are unnecessary.

Every day, 3 million gallons of polluted coal ash water flow into North Carolina rivers from Duke Energy’s coal ash lagoons. Every day, groundwater is being contaminated. Every day, there is the risk of another catastrophe. It is long past time for DENR and Duke Energy to act to clean up North Carolina’s coal ash mess and protect all 14 communities and rivers across North Carolina.

And the only thing lawmakers seem to be concerned about is losing ground in their efforts to suppress women's access to health care and LGBT rights. Once again, the GOP is allowing its misogyny and bigotry to draw their focus away from real dangers, and the citizens of NC are paying the price for that lack of concern. Meanwhile, the Duke Energy happy talk express is chugging right along:

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