Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper are offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who provides new evidence that could lead to charges relating to the recent coal ash spill in the Dan River in North Carolina. According to the Ashville Citizen-Times, several groups feel the state has mishandled the spill response, and continue to wonder if state regulators are being forthcoming with safety information.
Last Monday, 24 hours after the leak was first discovered, Duke Energy reported that it spilled as much as 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Residents began noticing that the river appeared black even before the energy company announced the spill. Millions of gallons of coal ash headed towards the downstream communities of Eden and Danville.
Waterkeeper Alliance notes that the state’s water sampling returned different results from its own. The state informed the public that arsenic levels in the water were safe when Waterkeeper Alliance’s water samples showed unsafe levels of arsenic and lead, among other toxic metals. According to both groups, the state’s actions following the spill have bred widespread mistrust.
“The fact that it took more than five days for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to release complete water test results for heavy metals is inexcusable,” Yadkin Riverkeeper Executive Director Dean Naujoks told the Citizen-Times. “They were aware of the spill and collected samples long before we did. Their failure to provide accurate, timely information to the public… is extremely irresponsible.”
The groups say anyone who can provide new information about the spill that leads to criminal and/or civil charges will receive a reward, not to exceed a total of $5,000. Waterkeeper Alliance will review all evidence submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Duke could have avoided contaminating the Dan River in North Carolina and poisoning Virginia’s water supplies if it had removed its toxic ash heaps years ago after being warned by the EPA,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the president of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Environmental crime is not a victimless crime. The poisoning of the Dan River is an act of theft at the very least. North Carolina’s constitution provides that the people of North Carolina own the waterway, but Duke Energy has now illegally privatized it.”
The state has also been criticized for thwarting citizen efforts to force Duke to clean out its coal ash dumps. Over the past year, the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked three citizen lawsuits against Duke Energy.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory was an employee of the company for 28 years and appointed other former employees into various positions in his administration. Environmentalists feel that the current administration has shielded the energy company from penalties it should have faced regarding its coal ash ponds, though McCrory boasted that his administration is the first to take legal action against the company.
The Associated Press reports that the state’s relationship with energy companies has become cozier since McCrory took office in 2012. Some feel the state stepped in and asserted its own authority when Duke Energy faced legal action regarding its coal ash ponds in order to shield the company from facing harsher penalties than it might have faced in federal court.