Report: Democratic Powerhouse Duke Energy To Settle Coal Ash Lawsuit

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers / AP

Duke Energy, one of the Democratic Party's largest corporate supporters that is strongly tied to the Obama administration, will settle a lawsuit with North Carolina, which accused Duke of contaminating Charlotte's drinking water with coal ash, the Charlotte Observer reports:

In a proposed order that will be open for public comment for 30 days, Duke agrees to assess the sources and extent of contamination at Riverbend and at its Asheville power plant. Duke would be fined $99,000 if the order becomes final.

The environmental groups that prodded the state to take legal action lambasted the agreement as toothless, saying it allows Duke to continue studying problems at Mountain Island Lake that have been known for years. The lake supplies drinking water to about 750,000 people.

But state officials say the order could make Duke take cleanup steps that are "scaled to the risk involved" – including closing the ash lagoons.

The state said the 2.7 million tons of ash in two unlined lagoons at the plant pose "a serious danger" to public health and the lake. Ash holds metals that can be toxic. The article also reported that The Riverkeeper Foundation, Duke University, and county officials have found arsenic, a cancer-causing component of ash, in the lake near the lagoons’ discharge point upstream of Charlotte’s water intake.

Two environmental groups first accused Duke, a recipient of large green energy subsidies and millions in federal grants, of misleading the public about its environmental record in March. The Washington Free Beacon reported the plaintiffs claimed Duke allowed carcinogenic chemicals from coal ash storage facilities to leak into Mountain Island Lake, Charlotte’s primary drinking water reservoir.

In November, CEO Jim Rogers, a leading fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, was forced out by Duke Energy as part of a settlement agreement with the state's utilities commission. Rogers and Duke offered to open a $10 million line of credit—guaranteed by Duke shareholders—to help finance the 2012 Democratic National Convention. That loan went unpaid, costing shareholders $6 million since Duke could claim the money as a business expense for tax purposes.

Former Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler became Duke's senior vice president of federal affairs in January.