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


— From staff reports, news services