North Carolina, U.S. officials probing coal-ash spill

February 4, 2014
N.C., federal officials probing coal-ash spill

State and federal environmental officials on Tuesday continued their investigations of a spill of coal ash into the Dan River in north-central North Carolina.

The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Secretary John Skvarla went to the site Tuesday. A day earlier, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were dispatched to the scene.

Duke Energy reported that the spill happened Sunday afternoon. The utility estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash — or the volume of about 32 Olympic-size swimming pools — have been released from a break in a 48-inch storm-water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant in Eden.

Duke also estimates that up to 27 million gallons of basin water has reached the river. Officials in Rockingham County and downstream in Danville, Va., have said there are no problems with their water supplies.

“I’m appalled and stunned that another coal-ash pond has failed so catastrophically in the United States,” said Donna Lisenby, campaign coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “It is still pouring coal ash into the river more than 36 hours after it was discovered.”

The DENR issued a statement saying that initial testing showed there was no deviation from normal levels for temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen because of the spill. Water samples were delivered to a lab in Raleigh for further testing.

— Associated Press

J.C. Penney reports holiday sales growth

J.C. Penney said Tuesday that sales during the critical holiday period grew 3.1 percent, the first increase for the company in three years.

For J.C. Penney, which is struggling to revive its fortune, the rise is significant in the face of a slow holiday season that hit most retailers’ sales. Big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target have warned of lower profits, while some department stores such as Sears have already posted weak holiday sales numbers.

“In spite of the significant headwinds facing all retailers this season . . . we delivered on our promise to generate positive comparable store sales growth in the fourth quarter,” Myron “Mike” Ullman, chief executive of J.C. Penney, said in a statement.

Last month, the Texas-based company said it would close 33 stores, eliminating 2,000 jobs. The retailer spent most of 2013 trying to rebuild its brand, bringing back in-house labels and reinstating its discount strategy. In Tuesday’s statement, J.C. Penney reported increased sales in the categories of beauty, apparel and luggage, among others.

The retailer posted a fourth-quarter growth rate of 2 percent and said online sales grew 26.3 percent from 2012.

J.C. Penney’s shares plunged 10.6 percent, to $5.08, on Tuesday. The company’s stock dropped more than 60 percent last year.

Amrita Jayakumar


Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $1.86 billion to end U.S. claims of misconduct in their handling of mortgages and related securities that left taxpayers shouldering losses after the financial crisis. Morgan Stanley said it reached a $1.25 billion deal to end Federal Housing Finance Agency accusations that the bank sold faulty mortgage bonds to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before losses at the firms pushed them into government conservatorship.JPMorgan will pay $614 million over the submission of ineligible loans for Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Affairs insurance.

A California-based investment firm has called on MicroStrategy to remove longtime chief executive Michael Saylor, buy back $455 million in stock and reinstitute quarterly investor calls after a nine-year hiatus as a way to boost the Tysons Corner, Va.-based company’s stock price. The suggestions were made in a critical letter that Apex Capital sent to MicroStrategy’s executives and board of directors this week. The letter also was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday.

Three oil companies operating in North Dakota were fined $93,000 for wrongly classifying fuel shipments in the first sanctions since a series of fiery derailments. The Department of Transportation said that Hess, Marathon Oil and Whiting Petroleum were cited for wrongly classifying cargo tanks that were hauling crude oil from the field to a railhead. Fuel shipments must be designated with a hazard class to alert emergency responders in the event of an accident. Eleven of 18 samples of one survey were mislabeled, the DOT said.

JPMorgan Chase will pay $1.45 million to settle a government lawsuit that charged that the company maintained a sexually hostile environment for women in an Ohio mortgage center more than four years ago. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which announced Monday the settlement of a case brought in 2009, said the work situation included sexually charged behavior and comments from supervisory staff in a mortgage-banking center in the company’s Polaris Park offices outside of Columbus.

Three of President Obama’s nominees to serve on the Federal Reserve Board will probably appear before the Senate banking committee during the last week of February, a committee aide said. The committee will also hear from former Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer, tapped to be Fed vice chairman; Lael Brainard, recently the Treasury Department’s top official for international affairs; and renominated Fed governor Jerome Powell, whose term ended Jan. 31.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt will be awarded $100 million in restricted stock units, the company said, marking the second time in less than three years that the former chief executive has received an equity award of that size. Google said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that Schmidt also will collect a
$6 million cash bonus next week.

— From staff reports, news services


8:15 a.m.: ADP employment report for January.

10 a.m.: ISM service sector index for January.

Earnings: Time Warner, Twitter, Walt Disney, Yelp.

Amrita Jayakumar covers IT and federal government contracting for Capital Business, The Post's local business section.
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