Dismiss state ash lawsuits, Duke Energy says

bhenderson@charlotteobserver.comApril 1, 2014 

Duke Energy says a judge should dismiss state lawsuits filed over coal ash contamination because any releases were “specifically or impliedly authorized” by its state permits.

Duke cited a string of defenses Monday in responding to the four lawsuits, including an assertion that the state suffered no damage from its actions.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources filed the litigation last year after environmental groups threatened to sue Duke. The actions address ash stored at the Riverbend power plant west of Charlotte and 13 other plants.

The lawsuits said seepage from ash pond dams and contaminated groundwater threaten public health and the environment.

Duke, in its responses, acknowledged engineering drainage from the ponds as a safety feature at some of the power plants. But it said any discharges or seeps were allowed by state permits, and denied breaking state groundwater standards.

The legal defenses Duke raised also suggest the state failed to pursue its claims against the company in a timely manner, to Duke’s detriment.

Environmental groups have harshly criticized DENR, claiming the department was too soft on Duke before a Feb. 2 ash spill into the Dan River.

After the spill, DENR withdrew a lawsuit settlement with Duke over the Riverbend and Asheville power plants that was widely seen as too lenient.

Several groups, including the Charlotte-based Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, have become parties to the state lawsuits.

Duke filed motions Monday to dismiss complaints, on grounds other than those the state cited, that the groups filed separately in the cases.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway is scheduled to hear arguments from the parties Friday over what internal documents Duke must share.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender

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