Duke Energy and the EPA Agree to Settle Toxic Tort Lawsuit
The battle between the country’s largest electric utility, Duke Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been raging since the 1990’s. The EPA has repeatedly sued the energy company for violations of federal environmental protections. Now, Duke Energy has finally agreed to pay a settlement for the toxic tort lawsuit.
The lawsuit claimed that Duke Energy in North Carolina had repeatedly violated the laws outlined in the Clean Air Act. The company has agreed to pay $975,000 to the federal government and spend around $4.4 million on environmental programs in the Southern state. Duke will also shut down 3 to 5 units of a five-unit coal-burning plant in Belmont, NC. The agreement is for the shutdown of the facility by 2024, three years ahead of Duke’s original schedule.
If Duke had not offered a settlement for the toxic tort, the case would have gone to court in October. However, the Justice Department approved the settlement offer just in time to avoid criminal charges against the company.
The EPA stated that, when the toxic tort lawsuit was first filed in 2000, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from the power plant were 51,000 tons. Thanks to the settlement, that will be reduced to zero.
“We’re excited; it’s been a long legal battle,” said Dave Rogers, the director of Environment North Carolina, an advocacy group that sided with the E.P.A. in the lawsuit. “The important thing now is that this will reduce cases of asthma in North Carolina and bring cleaner air to North Carolina communities.” Mr. Rogers said he questioned the company’s rationale for settling the case a month before trial. “They didn’t mind carrying on a legal case for 15 years,” he said. “If they thought they were right, they would likely have kept going.”
In a statement, and as part of the toxic tort settlement, Duke does not admit any wrongdoing but stated that the company wished to settle to avoid prolonging the legal battle.
This toxic tort settlement is one of the largest Clean Air Act settlements in the act’s 45-year-history. Since 1999, the EPA has cited 31 power plants using the Clean Air Act for failing to install updated pollution control equipment, especially on coal-based power plants. The Act requires that, when a major polluting power plant upgrades its facilities, it take the time and money to install the additional pollution controls. Duke remodeled 13 generating units at 5 coal power plants in North Carolina since 1999, without once adding the required environmental controls.
The plant shut-down in Belmont is to off-set the illegal pollution for the past few decades. Duke’s other power plants will receive the environmental modifications so that they do not release so many pollutants, per the Clean Air Act.
Duke has had a few legal run-ins with environmental law violations, toxic torts, and criminal charges from the EPA this year. In May, the company pleaded guilty to 9 criminal violations of the Clean Water Act and was fined $68 million. The lawsuit came because a pipe from one of the power stations broke over North Carolina’s Dan River, flooding it with coal ash. The company agreed to pay an additional $34 million to clean up the river.
“Other projects may include efforts towards increasing truck stop electrification and electric vehicle charging stations in North Carolina,” the EPA said of the most recent toxic tort settlement.