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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After a coalition of environmental groups sued to force Duke Energy to clean up nearly three dozen leaky coal ash dumps spread across North Carolina, the nation's largest electricity company turned to state legislators last summer for help.

Documents and interviews collected by The Associated Press show how Duke's lobbyists prodded Republican lawmakers to tuck a 330-word provision in a regulatory reform bill running nearly 60 single-spaced pages. Though the bill never once mentions coal ash, the change allowed Duke to avoid any costly cleanup of contaminated groundwater leaching from its unlined dumps toward rivers, lakes and the drinking wells of nearby homeowners.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by the GOP-controlled legislature and then signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a pro-business Republican who worked at Duke for 28 years.

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