The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency settled a lawsuit with North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp., requiring the company to spend more than $5 million in penalties and other costs as it resolves alleged Clean Air Act violations.
The United States initially sued the company in 2000, and the case continually made headlines over the years. The two sides were headed to trial next month.
Duke, in a release Thursday morning, said it denied the alleged violations and that it “complied fully with federal law.” It is settling the case, it said, solely to avoid the costs and uncertainties of continued litigation.
The settlement agreement involving the EPA, the U.S. Department of Justice and the company was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro. Duke is headquartered in Charlotte.
According to the EPA, the settlement involves Clean Air Act violations at five coal-fired power plants across North Carolina. It concerns long-standing claims that Duke modified 13 coal-fired electricity generating units without obtaining air permits or installing and operating the required air pollution control technologies.
Duke has already shut down 11 of the 13 units. At the remaining two units, the EPA said Duke must continuously operate pollution controls and meet interim emission limits before permanently retiring them.
Beyond that, the settlement calls on Duke to spend $4.4 million on environmental mitigation projects and to pay a civil penalty of $975,000.
In a statement, the EPA’s Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said: “This settlement brings five more power plants into compliance under EPA’s national initiative to cut pollution from the country’s largest sources. After many years, we’ve secured a strong resolution, one that will help reduce asthma attacks and other serious illnesses for the people of North Carolina.”
The environmental mitigation projects include restoring native wildlife and plants on National Park Service and Forest Service lands in North Carolina, as well as a program to help North Carolina residents replace higher-polluting wood stoves and fireplaces with cleaner burning alternatives.
In its statement, Duke said it did not violate the law because the projects were “routine,” as defined by the Clean Air Act, or did not result in a net increase in emissions – and thus did not require permits and additional emission controls.