News Update: Declaratory Judgment Action Brought against Duke Energy
In 2012, Duke Energy became the largest electric utility in the country. With great power comes great responsibility. Duke Energy has a responsibility to deal with the issues that have come to light with coal ash. The 2014 Dan River spill turned a sharp spotlight on those issues.
There are hundreds of families who live half a mile or less from Duke’s coal ash plants. They are also Duke Energy customers, or in some cases, customers of smaller utilities who obtain power from Duke. They were promised by Duke that it was a clean, safe, environmentally responsible provider.
As it turns out, the power these neighbors paid for also came with dangers from coal ash waste. The Dan River spill and the resulting attention of the regulators and prosecutors exposed the scope of these dangers. Now, Duke is having to remove the coal ash from many of its sites. And at others, a debate is underway over what Duke should do.
In the face of all this, the State Legislature passed a bill which requires Duke to provide a permanent replacement water supply to these families. The Coal Ash Management Act, or CAMA for short, reflects a legislative will to err on the side of protecting the families and the safety of their long-term water supply.
The families had been using private water wells for their tap water. For years their children drank and bathed in the water. They were told in 2015 that the water was not safe. Then in 2016, they were told it was safe but also learned that some leading scientists and officials disputed that recommendation. And they do not know in the long-term, if the millions of pounds of coal ash still stored at the sites can make their water worse. The coal ash is often stored in wet form, in ponds, which are unlined, meaning they can seep into the ground. The local groundwater serves the private wells.
These families are not at any fault for this situation. And they never had to pay a water bill before at these homes, or a hookup cost for a public water line. Many are on a fixed income or of modest means. Duke has agreed to cover some of the costs of public waters service but for other costs, like the cost of future bills, it is asking the families to sign away their right to sue if something should go wrong.
The lawsuit filed on August 23, 2017, asks the Court, and asks Duke, to carry through its duty to provide a safe, permanent, replacement water supply, without any strings attached. They ask that Duke abides by the traditional public policy that public utilities should not make consumers sign away their rights when it comes to basic necessities like clean water and clean power.
NC State Bar #22126
Wallace and Graham, P.A.
525 N Main St
Salisbury, NC 28144