By Marti Maguire
RALEIGH, N.C. Feb 19 North Carolina state
officials defended their oversight of coal ash ponds on
Wednesday, a day after a second leak was found to be threatening
a river already tainted by toxic sludge from a spill earlier
The state ordered Duke Energy Corp on Tuesday to
plug the second leak of arsenic-laced wastewater into the Dan
River from its decommissioned Eden power plant, this time
through a 36-inch stormwater pipe.
The state's Department of Natural Resources (DNER) said the
leak had been 90 percent contained.
The agency has come under fire for its handling of the
state's coal ash ponds, which it concedes are contaminating
groundwater as well as harming aquatic life. It filed suit
against Duke last year, and then proposed a settlement, which is
opposed by environmental groups.
DNER Secretary John Skvarla said the proposed settlement,
which has been on hold since the spill, would prevent delays in
cleanup that may be caused by a prolonged trial.
"This perception has been created that we are adversaries
with the citizens' groups, when in fact we are on the same side
of the table," Skvarla told a news conference.
"We all have the same outcome in mind ... to clean up the
spill, protect the environment and protect the people of North
Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern
Environmental Law Center, rejected Skvarla's comments. He said
DENR's lawsuit was meant to derail litigation planned by his
organization on behalf of several citizen groups.
"How can we be on the same side of the table if they don't
even let us come into the room?" he asked.
Tuesday's spill came less than three weeks after thousands
of tons of sludge spilled into the Dan River when a 48-inch pipe
broke under the 27-acre ash pond, Duke said.
Federal prosecutors issued a second set of subpoenas to DNER
on Tuesday as part of a widening probe into possible felony
violations at North Carolina's 14 coal ash sites.
Prosecutors are investigating whether a crime was committed
in the first spill, in which Duke said 30,000 to 39,000 tons of
ash were released into the river.
The coal-fired plant in Eden was built in the 1940s and
retired in 2012.