Gov. Pat McCrory and his top staff met with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good for dinner at the Executive Mansion in June amid ongoing legal and regulatory issues over coal ash, WRAL reported on its political website Wednesday.
Neither the governor’s office nor the utility company would discuss details of the dinner meeting, WRAL reported. McCrory’s spokesman said they discussed the environment, the economy, energy and job creation, and added that meetings with business leaders aren’t unusual.
The meeting came while the administration was in a three-way tussle with the company and environmentalists over coal ash regulation that began almost as soon as McCrory took office. McCrory worked at Duke Energy for 29 years, and environmentalists fighting for stricter regulations say state regulators have been lax in forcing Duke Energy to clean up its leaking coal ash ponds.
The administration denies that and says it has done more to regulate coal ash under McCrory than has ever been done. Little attention was paid anywhere to the risks of storing the material underwater until a massive 2009 spill in Tennessee and a smaller 2014 spill in the Dan River in North Carolina.
Duke Energy has contended that, far from having a cozy relationship with the administration, it has been the victim of overzealous regulators who are out to put political distance between the utility and the governor.
After learning that Duke Energy agreed to pay $102 million in a criminal fine to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the Dan River spill, a top official at the state Department of Environmental Quality wanted to fine the company $50 million, according to records from a June deposition. The agency imposed a record $25 million fine against the utility for groundwater contamination, and in September reduced it to $7 million.
Four days after the June 1 meeting, DEQ granted permission for Duke Energy to move coal ash from other ponds into clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties, which some area residents oppose, WRAL noted. State regulators are determining how many basins will have to be excavated and how soon.
The North Carolina Republican Party released a statement in response to WRAL’s report:
"WRAL, Roy Cooper's personal PR shop, is now attacking the governor for doing his job and meeting with the country's largest utility and one of North Carolina's largest employers."
WRAL reported that records show the other dinner guests were Donald van der Vaart, secretary of what is now called DEQ; Bob Stephens, the governor’s legal counsel; Thomas Stith, McCrory’s chief of staff; Lloyd Yates, president of Duke’s Carolina region; Julie Janson, Duke Energy’s chief legal officer; and Paul Newton, president of Duke’s utility operations in North Carolina.