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Coal ash spill shows that all politics are not local for state Senate leader

Phil BergerMaybe it’s just life in our new and hyper-gerrymandered era in which a huge proportion of legislative seats are election-proof, but the age-old political aphorism that “all politics is local” does not appear to apply to some politicians. Take for instance, the man who is arguably North Carolina’s most powerful politician, State Senator Phil Berger.

A little over 48 hours ago, there was giant environmental disaster in the Senator’s hometown of Eden in Rockingham County when a pipe burst and 82,000 tons of coal ash (enough to fill 32 Olympic-size swimming pools) was released into the Dan River. The spill is making national headlines and Catawba Riverkeeper is tweeting pictures here.

In most parts of the world, you’d think that such disaster might send local elected officials into some sort of full-time emergency damage-mitigation mode. By all indications, however, that’s not the case in Eden. The only “news” on Senator Berger’s website and Twitter account today is his latest blame-shifting broadside against State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson over the controversy surrounding the senator’s ham-handed new law to retain third graders in public schools who fail high-stakes tests.

Coal ash spillOf course in the present case,  there might be some other factors at work too. Were Berger to actually make himself visible and available in the coal ash disaster, it might invite questions from reporters and citizens about why Berger and the rest of the General Assembly have been so busy dismantling environmental protections in the state (and why a giant energy monopoly with billions in profits each year allowed such giant spill in the first place).

Let’s hope the questions get asked anyway and that, while they’re at it, citizens and journalists demand an explanation for last week’s decision by state environmental officials not to warn residents about a 3.5 million gallon sewage spill in Burlington. After all, for citizens trying to find clean air and water to consume, all politics remain local.

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