When a drunk driver is arrested and tried, Virginia’s law system doesn’t allow for an apology and a swift return to business as usual. Yet, when companies like Duke Energy break the law, our system of laws bends to the point of breaking (and sometimes does break) while corporate public relations (PR) teams kick into high gear to repair any damage done to their ‘brand’ following the legal infraction.
On Friday, Duke Energy deployed one of its first lines of PR damage control in the form of a question and answer session in Danville, VA with Duke Energy operations president, Paul Newton. According to Newton, “Duke Energy takes full responsibility and will "make it right."” What would a judge say to a drunk driver who caused thousands of dollars in damages who made this statement? Do you think the drunk driver would just be sent home with a moral opprobrium?
According to officials from Duke Energy, the pipe that would eventually send at least 82,000 tons of coal ash into an Eden, NC river was installed in the 1960s and does not meet present-day standards. Such an omission directly contradicts a statement Duke Energy posted on its website before the recent coal ash spill: “We are confident that each of our coal ash ponds has the structural integrity necessary to protect the public and the environment.” Unfortunately, Duke Energy was wrong.
Duke Energy is not the first, nor will it be the last, energy company to ‘overlook’ safety and environmental issues to make quarterly earnings look a little bit fatter. The Dominion Virginia Power’s and Duke Energy’s of the country know full well that as long as the costs of complying with industry standards and environmental regulations don’t outweigh the benefits of doing little or nothing, the latter will be done to the potential detriment of human and environmental safety.
And if this premise holds true, then it’s yet another reason for Virginia to continue holding steady with its ban on uranium mining. If Virginia Uranium Inc., or any other company which may take its place in the future, decides that it will be cheaper to ignore environmental regulations, it very well may do so even if it means leaving a hazardous waste behind for future generations to wrestle with.
Duke Energy is merely a symptom of a law and regulatory system that is slanted in favor of short-term economic gain. Go get your stockpile of bottled drinking water because the chances are that an environmental spill affecting your drinking water is coming to a town near you.