North Carolina's top environmental regulator defended his oversight of Duke Energy Wednesday as a criminal probe of the Dan River ash spill sought answers from his staff. Subpoenas released Wednesday order 18 state water-quality officials to appear next month before a federal grand jury in Raleigh. They're to report not only communications going back to 2009 but any payments and gifts from Duke. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources itself got a subpoena Tuesday for ash-related records for all 14 of Duke's active and retired coal-fired plants in the state. Duke said it too received a subpoena Wednesday but would not describe it.
The state proposed that Duke pay $99,111 to settle the environmental violations at Asheville and Riverbend. Environmentalists criticize the proposed fines as couch-cushion change for a company valued at nearly $50 billion. "This is a common technique of regulators who are friendly with the law-breaking regulated entities," [Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center] said. "They will come in and file at the very last minute and then quickly propose a favorable settlement to the lawbreaker to prevent the citizens group from leading the litigation."