Under the Dome

McCrory turns up heat on Duke Energy over river pollution

Duke Energy Progress retired Dan River Steam Station on the Dan River on Wednesday Feb. 20, 2014, in Eden, N.C.
Duke Energy Progress retired Dan River Steam Station on the Dan River on Wednesday Feb. 20, 2014, in Eden, N.C.

The governor on Wednesday increased the pressure on his former employer, Duke Energy, to quickly come up with plans to clean up the Dan River spill and make sure its 13 other coal-ash sites in North Carolina are not also environmental disasters waiting to happen.

Gov. Pat McCrory spoke to reporters before touring the industrial giant Siemens’ offices in Cary, bluntly criticizing Duke Energy for how it handled the early stages of the spill of coal ash near its Rockingham County plant on Feb. 2.

“Frankly, I’ve been very concerned about the lack of information that we initially received on the Dan River incident regarding what infrastructure was actually below the coal ash,” McCrory said. “They did not seem to know until the accident occurred that they had some infrastructural breakdown. ... To me, that raises a lot of issues, not only at that plant but what else is occurring at other potential sites that currently have coal ash?”

The utility determined in a short amount of time that the spill was caused by a collapsed stormwater pipe beneath a pond that stored coal ash. The company initially thought the pipe was made out of reinforced concrete, but it turned out to be made of corrugated metal and was decades-old. Later, it was discovered that a second pipe, which was made out of reinforced concrete, was leaking water from the pond through faulty connections in its 4-foot sections.

McCrory previously has said he thinks Duke should move all of its coal ash away from rivers into capped and lined landfills. On Tuesday, he sent the utility a letter demanding extensive plans for what the company plans to do about Dan River and the rest of its coal plants. Also Tuesday, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it might order Duke to move the Dan River coal ash.

“We want our rivers and our creeks to be protected,” McCrory said Wednesday. “ It’s time for Duke to step up to the plate and to reassure this governor and to reassure the public that they have a plan of action, and that plan of action ought to have a sense of urgency.”

He added that he met with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe during the gathering of the nation’s governors in Washington last week, and reassured him North Carolina will be taking a hard line with Duke.

McCrory worked for Duke Energy for 29 years. He has said – and repeated Wednesday – that his only financial stake in the company is a retirement account. His tough words help distance the governor from his former employer, while allowing him to take a popular stance against pollution.

“I used to work there and I’m proud of my employment,” McCrory said. “They have a very good reputation of responding to issues of concern by the public, and now it’s time to continue that reputation.”

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