Federal prosecutors file new subpoenas in widening criminal probe of NC coal ash spill

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In a local television interview Wednesday, McCrory said his preference was for Duke to remove its dumps, but that other options would also be considered. Echoing a contention made earlier by Skrvala, the governor suggested scooping out the toxic ash and hauling it away might actually cause more environmental harm than leaving it in place.

"The best case scenario is to move the ash ponds, but I also have to understand that in some cases that option may not be environmentally sound or may cause a worsening of the situation," McCrory told WRAL of Raleigh.

Skvarla's staff did not respond to requests to provide an example or scientific study showing that moving the toxic ash away from rivers and lakes would be harmful for the environment.

Utilities in other states, including South Carolina, have agreed to remove their ash from unlined pits near waterways. Duke has also removed some of its ash from its facility near Asheville.

At the media briefing, Skvarla criticized reports by AP and other media that raised questions about whether the deal with Duke proposed by his agency was in the best interests of North Carolina's residents. Rather than legal adversaries, he said his agency and the environmental groups had been working in concert.

"We're on the same side of the table," Skvarla said. "We all have the same outcome in mind. We are all passionate about protecting the environment. We have a legal charge to protect the environment and they as private citizens have created organizations that are dedicated to protecting the environment."

Lawyers for the groups that originally tried to sue Duke said the secretary was engaging in revisionist history. They said it was hard to be "on the same side of the table" when they weren't allowed in the room for the negotiations.

"Nothing in the state's rush to broker a quick side deal with Duke, without participation of the citizens who instituted this litigation, suggests a partnership," said D.J. Gerken, a managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. "But more striking is the state's refusal to require Duke to do anything to stop its ongoing contamination of our waters until after years of study to confirm what we already know — Duke's coal ash waste has been polluting our groundwater and rivers for years."

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Associated Press reporters Gary D. Robertson and Emery P. Dalesio also contributed to this report.

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Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck

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