Duke Energy, the electric utility whose massive spill of toxic coal ash into a river six weeks ago is part of a federal investigation, illegally pumped as much as 61 million gallons of coal-ash wastewater into a second river from September to last week, North Carolina regulators charged on Thursday.
Both the accidental spill and the deliberate releases occurred not far upstream from municipal drinking-water intakes.
The utility’s officials have said that the pumping was part of preparations for routine maintenance of two settling ponds that hold ash, the remains of coal burned to generate power.
But regulators cast doubt on that claim on Thursday. “The state’s investigation revealed that the pumping activities ongoing at this plant far exceeded what would reasonably be considered routine maintenance,” said Tom Reeder, the director of the water resources division at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
A spokeswoman for the water resources division, Susan Massengale, noted that Duke had spent 31 days emptying 17.4 million gallons of water from one ash pond and 78 days releasing 44.4 million more from a second.
Peter Harrison, a lawyer for Waterkeeper Alliance, the New York-based environmental group that first uncovered the pumping, said Duke’s explanation was “absurd.”
“They’ve essentially simulated a terrible coal-ash spill by pumping the pond out,” he said.
Duke briefly addressed the releases in...