By MICHAEL BIESECKER and MITCH WEISS
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) a¿¿ North Carolina regulators said Friday that they have asked a judge to withdraw a proposed settlement that would have allowed Duke Energy to resolve environmental violations by paying a $99,000 fine with no requirement that the $50 billion company clean up its pollution.
The consent order that the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources scuttled was meant to settle violations for groundwater contamination leeching from coal ash dumps near Charlotte and Asheville.
The order had been reached before a Feb. 2 spill from a coal ash dump in Eden coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge and brought to light a history of Duke being cited for its leaky, unlined coal ash dumps that were polluting the groundwater.
Officials said they will now partner with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pursue joint enforcement against Duke for Clean Water Act violations related to the Dan River dump and amid new concerns about the illegal releases at another of the company's sites that came out this week.
Duke has coal ash dumps at 14 power plants in North Carolina, all of which were cited last year for polluting groundwater. Following the Dan River spill, the company has been cited for eight more violations.
The latest came Thursday, after activists with the Waterkeeper Alliance photographed Duke employees pumping what the state now estimates was 61 million gallons of contaminated water from two coal ash dumps into a canal leading to the Cape Fear River. On Friday, the state approved Duke's emergency plan to repair a large crack that has opened in an earthen dam that holds back millions of tons of coal ash.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show a state inspector noted a month ago that water levels in waste pits at the Cape Fear Plant were low, but no enforcement action was taken until after the environmental group's photos of the illegal pumping were widely reported in the news media.