Environmental groups have tried three times in the last year to use the federal Clean Water Act to force Duke Energy to clear out leaky coal ash dumps like the one that ruptured last week, spewing enough toxic sludge into a North Carolina river to fill 73 Olympic-sized pools.
Each time, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has blocked the lawsuits, intervening to assert its own authority to take enforcement action. The state has then proposed settlements requiring the nation's largest electricity provider to pay modest fines rather than actually clean up its coal ash ponds.
Environmentalists suggest the real goal of state regulators has been to shield Duke from far more expensive penalties it might face if the cases ever made it to federal court.
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