Who will pay for the Duke Energy coal ash spill cleanup?

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RALEIGH, N.C. — On Tuesday, North Carolina officials said groundwater containing unsafe levels of arsenic apparently leaching from a Duke Energy coal ash dump is still pouring into the Dan River, according to a report from the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, the State Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered Duke to stop the flow of contaminated water coming out a pipe that runs under a huge coal ash dump at its Eden power plant.

State regulators expressed concern last week that the second pipe could fail, triggering a new spill. According to test results released Tuesday, the water coming out of the pipe contains poisonous arsenic 14 times the level considered safe for human contact.

“Given what we’ve seen, we’re concerned that this second stormwater pipe on site may also be leaking water contaminated with coal ash pollutants into the Dan River,” said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources. “As such, we are ordering Duke Energy to eliminate this unauthorized discharge immediately.”

Video shot inside the 36-inch-wide concrete pipe showed wide gaps between seams through which groundwater is gushing in, likely from the toxic dump above, according to the report.

Who will pay?

The question that remains without a clear answer is, “Who will pay for the cleanup?”

According to an Associated Press report, George Everett, Duke’s director of environmental and legislative affairs, apologized to state legislators this week for the spill and promised the company will be accountable. However, Everett implied the costs of the cleanup will likely be passed on to ratepayers, and not shareholders.

“We have paid absolutely no attention to costs, to this point,” Everett said, responding to a lawmaker’s question about who will pay. “We’re focused on stopping the discharge and initiating the remediation of the river. But when costs do come into play, when we’ve had a chance to determine what those costs are, it’s usually our customers who pay our costs of operation.”

However, also on Tuesday, Duke Energy CEO told the Charlotte Observer customers won’t pay the bill for the cleanup.

“We will analyze the financial implications, we’ll work with our insurers and we will be accountable for this,” she said. Duke spokesman Tom Williams later told the paper that “customers will not be accountable for this. Duke Energy will be accountable.”

The N.C. Utilities Commission would have to approve any new rates hikes for Duke Energy.

Read more: Associated Press and Charlotte Observer

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