An environmental group says Duke Energy is polluting a lake and two river basins with coal ash from its Person County power plant. The utility company disputes those accusations and says the waters are safe.
The administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a former employee of Duke Energy, has also been its chief regulator on coal ash. The Duke-McCrory ties have become campaign fodder, with critics claiming McCrory has been soft on Duke while the governor takes credit for aggressive action on ash.
Attorneys for several environmental groups on Tuesday asked a judge to compel Gov. Pat McCrory’s top aide to answer questions in a deposition about interactions among the utility, the governor and state regulators involved in coal ash pollution cleanup.
Duke Energy wants to stop environmental attorneys from disclosing the deposition of a key state health agency official in a lawsuit that involves the safety of drinking water wells near coal ash basins. The utility says the lawyers have publicized and mischaracterized testimony in previous depositions and continuing to do so would jeopardize its right to a fair trial.
While state lawmakers and environmental authorities are fixated on coal ash as a hazard, some are beginning to think of the waste as a resource. Rare earth elements – key ingredients of technologies such as smart phones, electric car batteries and bulletproof glass – are found in abundance in coal ash and could be mined for profit, according to Duke University researchers.
Political fallout from the state’s revocation of its do-not-drink notice to well owners near coal ash ponds was stoked further on Thursday when the N.C. Democratic Party filed a public records request with the governor’s office.
The NC House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a plan to reconstitute the Coal Ash Management Commission, which the state Supreme Court ruled the legislature had unconstitutionally created a year and a half ago.
A repeat of a clash between the governor and the legislature erupted Tuesday when a House committee passed a bill to reconstitute the coal ash commission, a panel the N.C. Supreme Court ruled was an unconstitutional intrusion on the executive branch’s authority.
A Wake County judge on Friday questioned the legality of part of an agreement between the state’s environmental agency and Duke Energy reached last fall to settle complaints about years of groundwater contamination.