RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have served North Carolina's environmental agency with 20 more subpoenas seeking documents and ordering 19 state employees to testify before a grand jury, part of a broadening criminal investigation into a massive coal ash spill.
The subpoenas made public by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Wednesday also ordered state officials to hand over any records pertaining to investments, cash or other items of value they might have received from Duke Energy or its employees.
On Feb. 2, a pipe running under a coal ash pond collapsed at Duke's Dan River Steam Station, spilling up to 82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water.
The new subpoenas were dated Feb. 11 and Tuesday. They follow two other subpoenas issued on Feb. 10, the day after a story by The Associated Press raised questions about a proposed deal between state officials and Duke that would have fined the nation's largest electricity provider $99,111 to settle violations over toxic groundwater contamination at two facilities.
The new subpoenas seek documents related to that settlement and the state's regulation of Duke's coal ash dumps before the Feb. 2 spill, which coated the bottom of the Dan River with toxic ash up to 70 miles downstream.
Duke has declined to share copies of subpoenas it received. U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker has also declined to comment on the subpoenas issued by his office.
Among those ordered to appear before the grand jury next month is Tom Reeder, the Division of Water Quality director who oversees the state's enforcement of environmental violations at Duke's 31 coal ash dumps in North Carolina.
When citizen groups tried to use the U.S. Clean Water Act to sue Duke in federal court last year, the state agency intervened three times to use its authority to issue violations over the pollution. The citizens groups that originally tried to sue Duke opposed the state's deal, saying it shielded the company from far harsher penalties it might have faced in federal court had the state not intervened.
After negotiating with the company's lawyers behind closed doors, the state proposed a settlement that would allow Duke to settle violations at facilities near Asheville and Charlotte for $99,111. That deal, which was scuttled by the state the day after the AP reported on it, included no requirement that Duke clean up its pollution.
Environmental groups have intensified their concern about the enforcement of coal ash ponds since Republican Gov. Pat McCrory was elected in 2012. McCrory worked at Duke for 28 years before retiring to make his first run for governor in 2008.
Since his unsuccessful first campaign for governor in 2008, campaign finance reports show Duke Energy, its political action committee, executives and their immediate families have donated at least $1.1 million to McCrory's campaign and affiliated groups that spent on TV ads, mailings and events to support him.
Associated Press reporter Emery P. Dalesio also contributed to this report.
Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck