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News Releases from HeadquartersEnforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA)

Remarks of Cynthia Giles, EPA Assistant Administrator for Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance on Duke Energy Subsidiaries Guilty Plea and Sentencing for Clean Water Act Crimes **Remarks as Prepared for Delivery**

Contact Information: 
Julia P. Valentine News media only (valentine.julia@epa.gov)

GREENVILLE, NC -- EPA is proud to stand alongside our partner, Assistant Attorney General John Cruden and the Justice Department, as well as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Thomas Walker. And we appreciate the support from the US attorney's offices for the western and middle districts and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.

Today we bring a measure of justice to the people of North Carolina. The coal ash spill along the Dan River was a national catastrophe. Drinking water sources were contaminated, wildlife was threatened, and the local economy took a hit. And it all could have been avoided.

Duke Energy is one of the largest companies in the State of North Carolina. It has a responsibility - a legal responsibility - to protect nearby communities. It's a basic rule of thumb. If you create contaminated waste, you do what it takes to keep it out of the water supply.

For years, contractors and employees raised concerns to Duke management about the exact problem that caused this catastrophe, but those concerns fell on deaf ears. If the pipes under the impoundments failed, employees warned, there would be environmental harm.

Inspect the pipes for corrosion they said, but managers looked the other way.
Monitor the pipes with cameras, they insisted, but again, these calls to action were ignored.

Multiple requests for monitoring were made, and each time they were turned down. Duke management failed their responsibility to the people of North Carolina. Their criminal negligence is what caused this disaster.

If these warnings were acted upon, this spill could have been avoided. Instead, the pipes gave way, and coal ash began spilling into the Dan River, which feeds multiple drinking water systems downstream. Water intakes had to be shut down. The river was closed to fishing for over five months, and people were told to avoid eating seafood from the river. Duke's actions risked exposing people to dangerous contaminants that have serious health effects, and can threaten wildlife and the environment.

Over 216 million Americans rely on surface water for their drinking water. Safe drinking water is essential to communities, and is at the core of EPA's mission. Making sure that industrial operations near drinking water operate responsibly is essential to our work. That's why EPA is committed to holding companies accountable when they cut corners and expose the public to these dangers. That's what we are doing today.

You've heard about the large penalty. And about the money Duke will set aside to ensure that the public is protected and these impoundments are cleaned up. That isn't all. We are serious about making sure that this company turns the corner and does things right. The agreement requires Duke to comply with the law, but we are not just taking their word for it.

- An independent third party, appointed by the Court, is going to audit their operations - nationwide, not just in North Carolina - to make sure they are meeting all their responsibilities and complying with the law.
- Those third party reports are going to be posted for the public to see, so Duke is publicly accountable for their actions going forward.
- The company has to set up a 24/7 anonymous toll free phone and email system for employees or the public to report problems.
- And Duke will meet its responsibilities to local communities, including by giving money back to drinking water treatment systems that have responded to pollution discharges.

Today we are taking action to protect the people of North Carolina, and we are sending a clear message to managers in businesses across the country:

Take your responsibility to protect communities seriously. If you don't, you will be held accountable.

Clean, reliable water is precious. It's what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals and businesses running, and fuels our economy. This case can't undo the damage done, but it can help prevent spills like this one in the future, and protect our communities' health for years to come.

With the changes that Duke has committed to in this agreement, Duke can lead, and fulfill its responsibility to the people of North Carolina and across the country.

Thank you.