News

U.S. Attorney’s offices across the state filed a series of criminal cases today accusing Duke Energy of negligent discharge of coal ash and coal ash wastewater into rivers adjacent to company coal ash plants.

In Raleigh, the misdemeanor charges were filed in connection to spills at the H.F. Lee Steam Plant.

In Charlotte, similar charges were filed arising out of spills at the Riverbend and Asheville plants, according to the Charlotte Observer.

And in the state’s Middle District in Winston-Salem, charges were filed for negligent discharge at the Dan River Steam Station in  Eden and permitting and inspection violations at the Cape Fear Electric Steam Station in Moncure.

The charges follow Duke’s announcement earlier in the week of a possible $100 million settlement of the federal government’s investigation into spills at the plants.

In a statement released late yesterday, the company said that it had reached a proposed agreement with the federal government settling the charges that includes payments of $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation — to be borne by shareholders, not customers.

The settlement agreement, which as of the time of this post has not been confirmed by the U.S. Attorney’s offices involved, must be approved by the court. 

It also does not resolve claims in pending civil cases arising out of coal ash spills and does not appear, per the Duke Energy statement, to provide specifically for clean up at each of the company’s plants in North Carolina.

In response to the announcement, Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents several citizens groups in those pending actions, said in a statement:

Today, Duke Energy has admitted that it committed environmental crimes in its coal ash storage across North Carolina.  We informed Duke Energy and DENR of these violations of the Clean Water Act in 2013, yet Duke Energy’s polluting coal ash storage has yet to be cleaned up and has now resulted in criminal prosecutions.  The important points is this:  Duke Energy cannot buy its way out of its coal ash scandal, it has to clean its way out.  Duke Energy and its executives must show the people of North Carolina that they are sorry for these crimes by moving the dangerous and polluting coal ash to safe, dry, lined storage away from our rivers and drinking water supplies.

Read the Criminal Informations in the Raleigh cases below.

Duke Criminal 1 by NC Policy Watch

Duke Energy Criminal 2 by NC Policy Watch

News

The Justice Department will seek an emergency order from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the federal government to move forward with the President’s immigration programs while it appeals a Texas federal judge’s ruling halting those programs, according to the New York Times.

The move follows on the heels of Monday’s late night ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen that the president failed to adhere to basic administrative procedures when issuing orders that would have provided sweeping relief to as many as five million undocumented immigrants.

Here’s a quick timeline of what might happen next, courtesy of Vox:

  1. This is a relatively aggressive move by the administration. The court battle over the president’s executive actions will still take a long time, but the stay means that the next phase will happen very quickly.
  2. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will now have to consider the stay. Its ruling could come within days of the filing, but will likely take a few weeks.
  3. The 5th Circuit is one of the country’s most conservative appeals courts, making it more likely that they might side with the lower-court judge and keep the president’s new “deferred action” programs from going into effect.
  4. If that happens, the Obama administration would be expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.
  5. Ultimately, if the administration wins a stay, the deferred-action programs could start back up in only a few weeks.
  6. If the Supreme Court sides with the states, the programs will be frozen for a matter of months or years while the case makes its way through the courts at the usual pace.

 

 

News

Add reforming the country’s criminal justice system to the list of things that make strange bedfellows.

In an announcement expected today, the Center for American Progress and Koch Industries — arch enemies in the political arena — will disclose their backing of the newly-formed Coalition for Public Safety, an organization designed to launch “a multimillion-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and take on similar initiatives,” according to the New York Times.

Others getting behind the coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Tea Party-oriented FreedomWorks, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

The coalition starts out with $5 million in funding from Koch Industries,  the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, which it will use to jump start the work it describes on its website:

The Coalition will work across the political spectrum to pursue a comprehensive set of federal, state, and local criminal justice reforms to reduce our jail and prison populations and associated costs; end the systemic problems of overcriminalization and overincarceration — particularly of low-income communities and communities of color; ensure swift and fair outcomes for both the accused and the victim; and make communities safe by reducing recidivism and breaking down barriers faced by those returning home after detention or incarceration.

As described in the Times, the coalition’s goal is “to leverage the broad reach of the group’s partners and financial backers to build public support for overhaul efforts through research and education campaigns, among other initiatives. The ideological spread should also allow them to reach out credibly to lawmakers of both parties.”

News

Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in North CarolinaIn case you missed it, WRAL is reporting that Duke Energy disclosed negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh for a possible $100 million settlement of the pending coal ash criminal investigation that office is conducting.

Per WRAL:

The details were contained in an earnings report filed Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We believe we are close to an agreement that, if approved by the court, would resolve the U.S. government’s ongoing grand jury investigation into the February 2014 Dan River coal ash spill and ash basin operations at other North Carolina coal plants,” Chief Executive Lynn Good said in a news release to announce its 2014 earnings.

The release said the proposed agreement “could be reached and filed in the next several days for consideration by the court.”

Duke has set aside $100 million “related to the company’s assessment of probable financial exposure related to any agreement,” the release said.

Not surprisingly and likely not happy about Duke Energy getting out ahead of any official announcement, U.S Attorney Thomas Walker issued his own statement:  “No comment.”

News

A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked implementation of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, saying that the president failed to adhere to basic administrative procedures when issuing orders that would have provided sweeping relief to as many as five million undocumented immigrants.

The order, which came a little before midnight from U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Brownsville, came as little surprise to many following the legal challenge to the president’s plan. Hanen, appointed to the bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush,  has been an outspoken critic of Obama’s immigration’s policies.

“The court finds that the government’s failure to secure the border has exacerbated illegal immigration into this country,” he wrote in his 123-page opinion. “Further, the record supports the finding that this lack of enforcement, combined with the country’s high rate of illegal immigration, significantly drains the states’ resources.”

As pointed out in the New York Times, the programs announced by the president in November would have offered three-year deportation deferrals and work permits to undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes, have been here at least five years and have children who are American citizens or legal residents.

The first of those programs was scheduled to open the application process on Wednesday.

In December, Texas and 25 other states, including North Carolina, filed suit opposing the programs, saying that they were adopted without adequate notice and provisions for comment and that they would impose huge burdens on state budgets.

But the state of Washington and 11 others, the District of Columbia, and the mayors of 33 cities including New York, Los Angeles and Brownsville — where the case was filed — supported the president’s actions, saying that they would benefit financially if undocumented workers obtained the relief offered.

In a statement released early this morning, the White House  said that the president had acted properly and consistent with decades of legal precedent.

“The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts and the district court in Washington, D.C., have determined that the president’s actions are well within his legal authority,” the White House said. “The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, common sense policies from taking effect, and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision.”

The case is expected to quickly ascend to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where many legal experts project Hanen’s order will be reversed on standing grounds.

“Federal supremacy with respect to immigration matters makes the states a kind of interloper in disputes between the president and Congress,” Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard, told the New York Times. “They don’t have any right of their own.”

Read Hanen’s full decision here.