Duke Energy pleaded guilty on Thursday to environmental crimes and has agreed to pay a record $102 million in fines and restitution for years of illegal pollution, ignored warnings, and poorly maintained infrastructure.
U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard said it is the largest federal criminal fine in North Carolina history.
But some environmentalists insist the punishment is insufficient, given the damage Duke continues to wreak in local communities. Just last month, the company was forced to start delivering bottled water to people with tainted wells close to several of its coal ash pits.
Of the $102 million, $68 million is a criminal penalty assessed under the federal Clean Water Act—believed to be among the largest such fines under the 43-year-old law. The rest of the settlement will go toward environmental projects in North Carolina and Virginia. The company will also be placed on a five-year probation, under which it will be monitored for compliance with the Clean Water Act. If it violates the law while on probation, Duke could be subject to further action by the court.
“Companies that cut corners and contaminate waters on which communities depend, as Duke did here, will be held accountable.”
—Cynthia Giles, EPA
“Today we said that big companies will be held accountable,” declared U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker of Raleigh, whose office convened the grand jury that led to Duke’s guilty pleas to nine misdemeanors.According to Walker’s office, four of the charges are the direct result of the massive 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. The remaining violations were discovered as the scope of the investigation broadened based on allegations of historical violations at the companies’ other facilities.
Still, as Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney John Suttles pointed out, “What this admission of guilt does not do is clean up the coal ash that continues to leak into our water supplies, into our rivers.”