North Carolina Colluded With Duke Energy to Block Green Groups: Internal Docs
Internal emails released Thursday by environmental lawyers confirm what activists have long charged: the North Carolina authorities tasked with regulating Duke Energy — the company responsible for the Dan River coal ash disaster — have been colluding with the corporation behind closed doors to undermine concerned environmental groups.
“These documents reveal a very cozy relationship between the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Duke and a deferential approach from DENR to Duke,” said Nick Torrey, Associate Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, in an interview with Common Dreams.
In January 2013, the SELC announced plans to sue Duke Energy on behalf of environmental organizations over dangerous coal ash ponds near Asheville, North Carolina. This was soon followed by similar action regarding the Riverbend coal ash dump north of Mount Holly. “For a long time, they’ve known their coal ash ponds are leaking and polluting groundwater,” said Torrey.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, citizens can sue a polluter to enforce environmental law. Yet, before they do so, they must give 60 days’ notice to the polluter to ostensibly give that polluter the opportunity clean up its act, explained Torrey. However, a state agency can file its own lawsuit, and if it does so on the exact same claims raised in the 60 day notice letter, then those groups cannot file own suit in federal court.
“Each time we sent 60 day notice letters, on approximately the 59th day, the DENR would file its own enforcement action,” said Torrey, explaining this effectively blocked the environmental suits.
Emails between Duke Energy and state regulators — obtained through a public records request by the SELC — show that, behind the scenes, the DENR engaged in closed-door negotiations with Duke Energy and communicated with them before intervening in the legal actions of environmental groups.
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