Dozens of insurance companies say they’re not obligated to help pay for Duke Energy Corp.’s multi-billion-dollar coal ash cleanup because the nation’s largest electric company long knew about but did nothing to reduce the threat of potentially toxic pollutants.
The claim is in a filing by lawyers for nearly 30 international and domestic insurance companies that were sued by Duke Energy in March to force them to cover part of the utility’s coal ash cleanup costs in the Carolinas.
Duke Energy delivers electricity to about 7.4 million customers in the Carolinas, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida.
The 57 policies generally promise to help Duke pay what it’s legally obligated to pay for property damage “caused by an occurrence,” even if liability for an incident doesn’t become known until decades later, the Charlotte-based company said in the same filing last week in the state court that hears complex business cases. Both sides filed the document in describing a litigation timeline that would lead to trial in mid-2019.
The insurers counter they’re not on the hook to pay. They say that because Duke Energy stored its coal ash in unlined pits as part of its normal practices, any property damage “was caused intentionally, by or at Duke’s direction” and there weren’t any distinct pollution events that triggered coverage.
They note that Duke was well aware that burning coal to generate electricity leaves byproducts containing toxic substances that can contaminate groundwater. They say Duke’s ash ponds were built without safeguards to prevent groundwater pollution, and some ash ponds placed the ash in direct contact with…
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