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The parties in the civil enforcement cases against Duke Energy for coal ash clean up at the company’s Asheville and Riverbend plants will be back in court tomorrow battling over whether Duke Energy can claim the pending criminal grand jury proceedings as a reason to delay releasing information sought in the civil context.

The organizations originally seeking to require clean-up at those plants until the state stepped in and filed suit — now intervenors in the lawsuits — argue that the pending grand jury proceedings should have no impact on the company’s obligations to produce evidence in the civil cases and expedite compliance and clean-up at the plants at issue.

The secrecy afforded grand jury proceedings relates to the identity of witnesses, the substance of their testimony and the deliberations of grand jurors, not to facts and information otherwise discoverable in a civil lawsuit, the groups argued in papers filed with the court last night.

“This civil enforcement has been underway more than a year, since March 26, 2013, when the foundation gave DENR and [Duke Energy] notice of its intent to enforce the Clean Water Act to require a clean-up of defendant’s illegal pollution of Mountain Island Lake,” the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation said in its papers filed with the court. “Since that time there has been a remarkable series of efforts to delay the enforcement of anti-pollution laws against Defendant’s illegal pollution at Mountain Island Lake.”

The Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and Western North Carolina Alliance, now intervenors in the case concerning the Ashevile plant, made similar arguments in opposition to Duke Energy’s request in their brief filed with the court.

A hearing on this issue is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow in either Raleigh or Henderson, N.C., depending on the status of jury deliberations at the end of today in another case before the court.

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In case you missed it, a Sunday editorial in the Greensboro News & Record told it like it is when it comes to the matter of corporate taxes in North Carolina. It was entitled “Next to nothing.”

“What’s less than a lower corporate income-tax rate? What some businesses actually pay.

North Carolina legislators cut the state’s corporate income-tax rate last year from 6.9 percent to 6 percent. It’s scheduled to drop to 5 percent next year.

Republican lawmakers said the cut was needed to create a better business climate and make the state more competitive with its neighbors. Yet, cutting the rate to 5 percent isn’t very meaningful to a corporation that pays barely more than 1 percent.

Duke Energy, based in Charlotte, paid an average of 1.3 percent of North Carolina profits in state corporate income tax from 2008 through 2012, according to a study released last week by Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. Read More

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Here’s the latest in the civil court case involving Duke Energy and the clean-up of coal-ash ponds. Click here for background on the case.

Wake Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway denied a request Thursday from the utility company to delay a previous order to start immediately dealing with contamination from coal-ash ponds Duke maintains around the state.

Duke had asked that the clean-up be delayed while it appealed Ridgeway’s decision earlier this month to order Duke to take immediate action to stop contamination by coal-ash ponds. Today’s order means that Duke must be forward with plans to clean up the ponds.

Below are copies of Ridgeway’s order, as well a motion from environmental groups asking that the stay be denied.

 

Duke Stay Coal Ash by NC Policy Watch

 

 

Enviro Objection Stay by NC Policy Watch

 

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Coal AshAt least two stories on the entity that seems to be fast becoming North Carolina’s Public Enemy #1 (Duke Energy) are worth your time this morning if you didn’t catch them last night.

First is this AP story about how Duke lobbyists undermined the efforts of environmental advocates last year by getting friendly legislators to slip a provision into an omnibus deregulation bill that did their bidding on coal ash regulations:

“Documents and interviews collected by The Associated Press show how Duke’s lobbyists prodded Republican legislators to tuck a 330-word provision in a regulatory reform bill running nearly 60 single-spaced pages.

Though the bill never once mentions coal ash, the change allowed Duke to avoid any costly cleanup of contaminated groundwater leaching from its unlined dumps toward rivers, lakes and the drinking wells of nearby homeowners….”

Second is this WRAL.com story about Duke pumping coal ash into a stream that leads to the Cape Fear River:

“Advocates with the Waterkeeper Alliance say pictures they released Monday of workers for Duke Energy pumping water from a coal ash pond into a stream that feeds the Cape Fear River shows the company violating state and federal clean water rules.

Duke officials don’t dispute they were pumping the water, but they say they were allowed to do so for maintenance work under current permits for the pond, which is at a retired power plant in Moncure.

‘To label the secret, unmitigated, intentional discharge of untold amounts of highly toxic wastewater as ‘routine maintenance’ seems ludicrous,’ said Peter Harrison of the Waterkeeper Alliance.”

 

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Coal ashIn case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out this essay by Raleigh News & Observer editorial page editor Ned Barnett in which explains and laments the demise of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Be sure to check it out even if you saw the print version, because the virtual one includes video clips of Barnett’s interview with former DENR regional supervisor Amy Adams (currently of the group Appalachian Voices).

As Barnett puts it in the essay:

Adams originally welcomed the call for efficiency [at DENR]. Like most bureaucracies, DENR needed streamlining and focus. But she balked and quit once it became clear that the real change at DENR would be less, not smarter, enforcement. DENR’s new role would be to guide permit applicants through what Skvarla calls ‘the maze’ of regulations.

As Adams puts it, the message from DENR’s leadership, stripped of its customer service code words, was: ‘Stop investigating, stop enforcing and just be someone out there holding a hand.’ Read More