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Feds expand probe of coal-ash spill

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:36 p.m.

RALEIGH — Federal prosecutors widened their investigation triggered by a coal-ash spill in North Carolina.

They have demanded reams of documents and ordered nearly 20 state environmental agency employees to testify before a grand jury.

The subpoenas were made public on Wednesday by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. They 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.

Charlotte-based Duke confirmed it was served with a new subpoena, the second received by the nation's largest electricity provider. Company spokesman Tom Williams declined to comment.

On Feb. 2, a pipe running under a coal-ash pond collapsed at Duke's Dan River Steam Station in Eden — coating the bottom of the Dan River with toxic ash up to 70 miles downstream. The river is near the border with Virginia.

Meanwhile, state officials said Duke successfully contained “about 90 percent” of the flow from a second pipe at the dump that spewed arsenic-laced groundwater into the river.

Public health officials have advised residents not to touch the river water or eat the fish.

State environmental Secretary John Skvarla declined to comment when asked at a media briefing whether he had been served with a subpoena.

Skvarla was appointed last year by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who worked for Duke Energy for more than 28 years. Josh Ellis, the governor's spokesman, confirmed that McCrory was not subpoenaed.

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 at 14 coal-fired power plants spread across North Carolina.

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