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ASHEVILLE — Conservation and progressive advocacy groups gathered Thursday on the shores of Lake Julian to call on Gov. Pat McCory to reveal his level of financial investment into Duke Energy and to lead an effort to clean up 37 coal ash sites across the state.
With the lake and Duke Energy’s Asheville power plant in the background, Gerrick Brenner, director of Progress NC Action, said that McCrory has disclosed that he currently owns at least $10,000 worth of Duke Energy stock, but that the exact amount is unknown. McCrory spent 29 years working for Duke Energy, where he held management positions ranging ranging from human resources to economic development, according to the governor’s biography.
“It could be a lot more,” Brenner said. “We don’t know.”
Brenner also said the groups want McCrory to disclose contributions from Duke Energy to his campaign and affiliated groups. They also want him to disclose communications between Duke employees and members of his administration. On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that emails provided to them by the Southern Environmental Law Center show that Duke and state environmental regulators were in close contact as environmental groups prepared to sue the company over the coal ash ponds in Asheville and Charlotte
According to the AP:
The emails were provided Thursday to The Associated Press by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which had filed notice in January 2012 of its intent to sue Duke under the Clean Water Act.
Within days, the emails show a Duke lobbyist contacted the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, where staff exchanged messages discussing “how Duke wants to be sued.”
The agency used its authority to intervene in the lawsuit, quickly negotiating a proposed settlement where the $50 billion company would pay a $99,100 fine but be under no requirement to stop its pollution.
Of the three dams at the 376-megawatt coal-burning Asheville power plant, two contain ponds of coal ash. Each of the coal ash ponds have a storage capacity of about 450 million gallons — making the total possible capacity reaching more than 900 million gallons of wet coal ash across 91 acres, according to a 2009 Environmental Protection Agency report.
One of the structures is more than half-a-century old. The other is more than three decades old. At 60 feet tall and 95 feet tall, respectively, the earth-and-rock dams are visible from Interstate 26, the only thing separating the structures from the nearby French Broad River. Carolina Public Press’s most recent investigation into the coal ash dams in Asheville found that regulators have not issued any violations or citations to Duke Energy related to the dams in recent years, though they have discovered issues to be “monitored”.
Brenner and Adam Sotak, organizing director with Democracy NC, said that stock holders like McCrory should pay for the cleaning up the company’s coal ash ponds. Lynn Good, Duke’s CEO, has said that rate payers would pay for their clean up.
Brenner referenced a recent Public Policy Polling poll found bipartisan agreement that Duke Energy should pay for the clean up of the coal ash spill on the Dan River in eastern North Carolina. According to a release on the poll, 79 percent participants said that the company, not customers, should pay. Released on Wednesday, the poll found that there was little divide among Democrats or Republicans about the issue.
“It’s a pretty unusual in North Carolina these days to find a hot button issue that Democrats and Republicans are completely in agreement about,” Dean Debnam, Public Policy Polling’s president said in a press release. Go here for the full poll results. [PDF]
Katie Hicks, assistant director of the conservation organization Clean Water for NC, said that it’s important that local, state and federal officials and agencies be held accountable for protecting the state’s supplies of clean water. She said the dams at the Asheville facility “looms large as a constant threat if [they] collapsed over I-26.”
“Accidents can happen,” she said.
Correction: Clean Water for NC’s name has been corrected.