Duke Energy pleads guilty in court to coal ash crimes

Duke Energy has pleaded guilty in federal court to environmental crimes and has agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution over years of illegal pollution leaking from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.

The company’s plea to nine misdemeanor counts involving violations of the Clean Water Act was part of a negotiated settlement with federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors say the criminal negligence of the nation’s largest electricity company resulted in unlawful pollution at its coal fired power plants. Duke pleaded guilty to crimes involving its operations in Eden, Moncure, Asheville, Goldsboro and Mt. Holly.

“Today we said that big corporations are not above the law and that polluters that harm our environment will be held accountable,” US Attorney Thomas Walker said.

The investigation into Duke began last February after a pipe collapsed under a coal ash dump at the Eden plant, coating 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. However, prosecutors said that Duke’s illegal dumping had been going back for years, to at least 2010.

“Don’t cut corners, listen to your employees when they tell you have a problem. If you see it, fix it,” John Cruden, Asst. Attorney General of the Department of Natural Resources Division said. 

On Thursday it was presented that time and again Duke ignored the warning signs from engineers that the waste water pipes beneath their coal ash retention ponds had to be replaced. Duke now says they are taking responsibility for their actions.

“I think you’ve seen over the last year that Duke has done everything possible to make this right and today was about accepting responsibility and moving forward as a very different company.” Jim Cooney, Duke’s attorney said.

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