RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) - The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality(DEQ), reached a $20 million settlement with Duke Energy Tuesday that holds Duke Energy accountable for groundwater contamination at all of its 14 coal ash facilities.
Duke Energy is also required to provide accelerated cleanup of groundwater contamination at its Sutton Plant near Wilmington, Asheville Plant, H.F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro and at the Belews Creek Steam Station.
"This agreement holds Duke Energy accountable for past groundwater contamination and mandates that Duke Energy expeditiously clean up polluted groundwater near its coal ash sites," DEQ Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart said in a written release. "Our chief goal is to protect the environment and public health while requiring corrective action to restore groundwater quality. This settlement resolves the issue of fines for past violations and allows DEQ to commit all of its resources to overseeing Duke Energy's clean-up process."
In March, DEQ fined Duke Energy $25.1 million for groundwater contamination from coal ash at its Sutton Facility.
Duke Energy officials said the fine, the state's largest ever issued for environmental damage, was crafted by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to give political cover to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Duke employee, from charges of cronyism.
The settlement includes $7 million in fines and penalties for past groundwater contamination at all of its 14 coal ash facilities and an estimated $10-$15 million in accelerated remediation costs.
The settlement requirements are in addition to Duke Energy's obligation under the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 to close all of its coal ash ponds by 2029.
The newly reached settlement prevents the state from incurring additional legal fees associated with protracted litigation.