Duke Energy

What does it mean to be a good corporate citizen?

I want to like Duke Energy. Really I do. They're a giant company and they could do so much good. In fact, they do do a lot of good. Except when they lie. The Dan River spill was the result of convenient neglect and what should be considered criminal coverup. The risks were created knowingly over decades in concert with a toothless DENR. And now we get a bunch of double talk?

You can't lie and be a good corporate citizen.

My advice to Duke Energy is to come clean. Confess your transgressions and promise to do everything you can to be a better company. Use this as a learning moment. Move us rapidly toward renewables. Embrace citizen producers. Be honest and fair in your dealings. Actually put people before profits. You could do this if you wanted to. And you'd win beyond your wildest dreams. So why don't you?

Coal Ash Wednesday: Friday news dump with Kool-Aid chaser

It's pretty bad when Florida doesn't approve of your behavior:

The country's biggest power company, the parent of Duke Energy Florida, invoked a classic PR move last week by issuing a news release at 4:20 p.m. on a Friday, shortly before the end of the workweek.
That timing often signals something bad has happened that the culprit hopes will get ignored in the weekend crush.

After reading Duke's spin, I felt like I should send flowers to the company for going the extra mile in hard times. But let's skip the Kool-Aid and look at what Duke chose not to acknowledge. Duke's is not pursuing a "proposed agreement" but pleading guilty to multiple environmental crimes — nine violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

All things considered, it is a fairly hefty fine for environmental wrongdoings. The massive TVA spill of a few years before, which released over a billion gallons of coal ash downstream, only cost the TVA $11.5 million in fines and $27.8 million in a class-action suit from affected landowners. But the funny (or not-so-funny) thing about comparing the two is: TVA has cleaned up and properly disposed of between 75%-85% of that 1.1 billion gallons spilled, while Duke Energy left over 90% of their spilled coal ash in the Dan River. One of many reasons their $102 million in fines is simply not enough.

For Duke Energy, everything is negotiable

Even their "punishment" for crimes committed:

Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility, accusing the company of violating the federal Clean Water Act by illegally dumping millions of gallons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina. They also accused the company of failing to maintain equipment around at least two plants.

Duke said Friday that it had already negotiated a plea agreement under which it expected to pay fines.

And in true cart-before-the-horse fashion, the fines just happen to be slightly larger than the dollar figure Duke decided it was prepared to pay...when? A few months ago? If this investigation and the charges that resulted are supposed to make us feel better about how justice is rendered in this country, it's a big, fat failure.

Coal Ash Wednesday: The $100 million bribe

When buying off a grand jury is simply the cost of doing business:

Duke Energy expects to pay $100 million to resolve a federal criminal grand jury investigation of its coal ash management, the company said in an earnings report Wednesday.

“The company expects a proposed agreement could be reached and filed in the next several days for consideration by the court,” Duke said in its earnings report. “If approved, the proposed agreement would resolve the ongoing grand jury investigation of the company’s coal ash basin management.”

I wasn't aware you could "settle" a criminal investigation, at least not openly and brazenly. Then again, this is Duke Energy we're talking about; they have their own set of rules "governing" their behavior, that usually hinge on sacred words and numbers like these:

Coal Ash Wednesday: The deadly ingredients

Thanks to Physicians for Social Responsibility for outlining the harms:

Arsenic: It has long been known that arsenic, if ingested in very high levels, is deadly. However, lower levels of exposure are also harmful and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; anemia and decreased production of the white, infection-fighting blood cells; abnormal heart rhythms; blood vessel damage; numbness in the hands and feet; partial paralysis; and decreased vision, even blindness. Repeated low levels of exposure over an extended period of time can produce effects similar to a one-time high level of exposure, and chronic exposure to low levels can cause skin cancer. Arsenic has also been linked to cancers of the lung, bladder, kidney, liver and prostate.

Contaminated drinking water is a primary route of arsenic exposure. Exposure from birth may increase urinary cancer risk much later in life, suggesting that people whose drinking water is contaminated by arsenic from coal ash should be monitored long-term for this cancer, even if they stop drinking the contaminated water.

I know a lot of environmental advocates who are energetic as all get-out, but lacking somewhat in the details. Energy is important, but you need some basic factual tools at your disposal if you want to persuade others the danger is real. Understanding the toxics involved and their deleterious effect on our health is likely the best tool you could wield in that effort:

Coal Ash Wednesday: The contamination continues

The only thing that's ceased is the outrage and determination from lawmakers to fix the problem:

The more that the scientists look, the more problems they find – for example, arsenic in a drinking water reservoir, contaminated well water, fish kills, polluted groundwater. All are unnecessary.

Every day, 3 million gallons of polluted coal ash water flow into North Carolina rivers from Duke Energy’s coal ash lagoons. Every day, groundwater is being contaminated. Every day, there is the risk of another catastrophe. It is long past time for DENR and Duke Energy to act to clean up North Carolina’s coal ash mess and protect all 14 communities and rivers across North Carolina.

And the only thing lawmakers seem to be concerned about is losing ground in their efforts to suppress women's access to health care and LGBT rights. Once again, the GOP is allowing its misogyny and bigotry to draw their focus away from real dangers, and the citizens of NC are paying the price for that lack of concern. Meanwhile, the Duke Energy happy talk express is chugging right along:

Coal Ash Commission a model of ineptitude

Undermanned, underfunded, and painfully underqualified:

Under the Coal Ash Management Act, which established the commission, Duke Energy pays $2.4 million to the state ever year in order to pay for extra staff at both the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the commission. While the commission has been ordered to oversee DENR's work and develop rules for disposing of the ash, DENR gets first dibs on the funding under the current law.

That quirk, combined with the fact that Duke pays in quarterly installments, means that the commission will have little funding to work with this year. While it has been able to hire an executive director and a part-time lawyer, a second lawyer, an engineer and other staff members are on hold until the cash flow issue can be worked out.

Bolding mine. Having an executive director with nobody to direct is about as effective as buying a Rolls Royce without an engine. Looks nice sitting in your driveway, but it ain't going anywhere.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Eden has a pep rally

Someone should tell these folks: Denial is a river in Egypt:

It's been nearly a year since thousands of tons of coal ash was dumped into the Dan River from a retired Duke Energy steam station. Since then, Eden officials have fought a public relations nightmare. On Tuesday, those same officials stood before members of the media and proclaimed, "Our rivers are thriving."

“The fishing is as good now as it was when I was a child,” says Scott Dalton, the owner of Mayodan Outdoor Sports. Dalton spoke at Tuesday’s news conference promoting the Dan River’s safety.

I don't doubt that last part. It wasn't until the late 1970's that the EPA really cracked down on industrial wastes flowing directly into rivers, so the Dan River is right now probably of a similar quality. And I don't fault the leaders of Eden for whistling past the graveyard, since a whole lot of people's livelihood is at stake. But every time they make this pitch, they're excusing Duke Energy for leaving over 90% of the spilled coal ash in the river.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Famous last words

The propaganda train is already rollin' down the tracks:

All coal ash brought to a former clay mine in Sanford would be transported by rail only, Duke Energy and Charah representatives said at a Sanford Environmental Advisory Board meeting Tuesday. Between rail transportation and onsite trucking, Price said there still is a zero-tolerance policy for coal ash dust.

“Once we put it in the rail car, we will spray something on it to seal it,” he said, adding that once the coal ash reaches the site, it will remain at 20 percent moisture. “As long as we keep the moisture at the 20 percent, it does not get airborne.”

Just so everybody understands what this means: The coal ash is not going to be put into those sealed hazardous waste tanker cars, it will be transported in open-top hoppers, directly exposed to the air. And they're going to wet it down at the start, and hope like hell he wind and forward motion of the train don't cause enough evaporation to dry it out (the top layers, anyway) and set it loose in the air. I think we should require them to publish the rail shipping schedule, so observers can be on site in different locations to monitor the ash trains. But I doubt they will volunteer that information.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Local opposition to proposed dump grows

Following the toxic dust trail:

Strickland said anyone living near the railroad tracks between Charlotte and Wilmington would be affected by coal ash dust contaminating the air during transport, and anyone drinking water from the Cape Fear River would be affected by potentially contaminated water. “It's not just a Lee and Chatham County thing,” she said.

According to informational sheets distributed by BREDL and EnvironmentaLee members, the Cape Fear River runs through eight counties and passes by 12 towns and parks along the way. An additional 24 towns and universities are located along the railroad from Wilmington to Sanford, and 17 towns and parks are located along the railroad from Charlotte to Sanford.

Like many of these folks, I'm finding it hard to understand the need to transport this stuff halfway across the state. If they were moving it close to a facility where it could be reused for concrete or some other process, I could get that. But just for storage? Dig a new (lined) pit beside the old one and shift it over, then put a cap on it. Unless you're intentionally trying to generate horrendous costs during the process of cleanup/disposal of your first few projects, so you can convince lawmakers or commission members to back off. It also helps if you can get your money back from ratepayers with the help of the NC Utilities Commission.

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