SEC Filing: Duke says it expects to settle criminal probe

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Duke Energy said Wednesday it expects to pay $100 million to settle an ongoing federal criminal investigation that began after a massive coal ash spill at a North Carolina plant.

The details are contained in an earnings report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The U.S. attorney's office in Raleigh began the investigation after a February 2014 spill at Duke's Eden plant coated more than 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge.

In a conference call discussing the earnings report, Duke executives said the proposed settlement could be filed in court within days. Any settlement would still need to be approved by a federal judge.

"We believe we are close to an agreement," Duke CEO Lynn Good said.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker declined to comment Wednesday. But the extent of records sought by subpoenas in the case suggests that prosecutors are not only looking at the spill, but also at the relationship between Duke and state regulators going back for many years.

A spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the agency would release a statement regarding the proposed settlement later in the day.

After the Dan River spill, Duke signed agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency and North Carolina to pay any costs associated with the emergency response and the costs of the agencies overseeing cleanup and environmental monitoring efforts.

Duke faced multiple violations involving both the spill and ongoing groundwater contamination from ash dumps at 13 other sites.

Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said his group didn't know any details of the deal, but would be looking at it closely.

"This is a situation where the company can't pay its way out of the problem," Holleman said. "This payment may resolve a grand jury investigation but it doesn't clean up the coal ash."

In its earnings statement, Duke reported an 86 percent drop in its fourth-quarter net income, mainly due to a drought in Brazil that hurt its international energy business. The Charlotte-based company said it completed a strategic review of its international energy business and decided to continue to own and operate it.

Duke reported net income of $97 million, or 14 cents per share, in the three months ending Dec. 31, compared with $688 million, or 97 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

For the year, the company reported profit of $1.88 billion, or $2.66 per share. Revenue was reported as $23.93 billion.

Shares of Duke Energy Corp. rose 2 cents to $79.41 in morning trading Wednesday.


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