Duke defends itself against pollution claims

Robert Kennedy speaking. Says NC plants are some of the worst offenders for coal ash.


by TONY BURBECK / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @TonyWCNC


Posted on July 23, 2013 at 6:47 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 23 at 7:05 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Local and national environmental groups targeted Duke Energy Tuesday, alleging Duke uses lakes and rivers for unlimited coal ash toxin dumping, including Mountain Island Lake, the water source for more than 800,000 people.

"Some of the worst offenders are here in the state of North Carolina,” said environmental activist, attorney and Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Kennedy, along with members of the Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project and Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation claim toxins from coal ash and unpermitted seepage are contaminating rivers and lakes, and making people sick.

"This crime is as bad a crime as you can commit,” Kennedy said.

"This is a witch’s brew of pollutants that, as you have heard, is linked to all sorts of health problems,” said Mary Ann Hitt, the Beyond Coal Campaign Director for the Sierra Club.

The study those environmentalist groups released Tuesday claims 70 percent of surveyed coal fired plants nationwide have no limit to the amount of pollutants, half have expired permits, and Clean Water Act regulations have been ignored.

"This industry is by far the dirtiest,” said Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer.

The organizations want stricter EPA coal plant water pollution regulations, which is something the EPA hasn't touched in 31 years, Kennedy said.

Kennedy claims state regulators give Duke Energy sweetheart deals and minimal proposed ash lawsuit settlement fines.

"These coal companies have subverted democracy and they are getting away with something here that any other citizen in this state would go to jail for if they tried the same thing,” said Kennedy.

Duke Energy says there are a number of inaccuracies in the report.  

When it comes to the claim that Duke is allowed to dump toxic wastewater with no limits on arsenic or mercury, Duke said, “The idea that any coal plant can discharge an unlimited amount of metals is absurd.  State regulators continually evaluate our plant discharges and reassess our discharge permits every five years.  Permits do not contain limits on certain constituents when the amount of discharge is very low and is not likely to affect water quality in the lake or river.”

Duke also says water quality is good, the drinking water is safe and they have invested millions to new technology to protect water.

Duke also voluntarily closed the Riverbend plant earlier this year.