Advocates and activists for stronger action on coal ash than is included in the new state law that officially took effect today gathered outside the Old State Capitol in downtown Raleigh this morning to deliver more than 40,000 signatures to Governor Pat McCrory. The signatures represented roughly one North Carolinian for each ton of coal ash spilled into the Dan River at Duke Energy’s Eden facility in February.
Speakers at the event organized by the group Environment North Carolina were flanked by volunteers who held aerial photos of each of the ten coal ash dumps that will be left essentially unaddressed by the new legislation.
Kim Brewer, a former resident of Dukeville near the Buck Steam Plant in Rowan County assailed the new law as doing “nothing” to help her community. “There’s hexavalent chromium in our wells, and my two daughters were born with serious birth defects. My neighbors have suffered from brain tumors, cancer and respiratory problems that we believe are connected to coal ash pollution. We deserve a full cleanup. I don’t want any other family to go through what we’ve been through.”
Amy Adams, a former state DENR employee who now spearheads advocacy efforts on Duke’s coal ash pits and ponds for the group Appalachian Voices, targeted Governor McCrory for criticism: “From the time Duke Energy spilled 40,000 tons of toxic coal ash in to the Dan River until today, Governor McCrory has gone way too easy on his former employer. As a result, ten communities impacted by coal ash in North Carolina are stuck in limbo, without any assurance that they’ll get a full cleanup. Governor McCrory should use his authority to protect those communities by demanding cleanup now.”
Caroline Armijo of Stokes County, who grew up near the Belews Creek plant, related the stories of numerous friends and family members who have battled and/or lost their lives to especially aggressive cancers — a reality that she said she found hard to believe was not related to well water pollution caused by seepage from the nearby coal ash pond.
Matthew Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, devoted his remarks to highlighting the problems at Duke’s Lee Power Plant near Goldsboro where, he said, arsenic has been found in groundwater near the Neuse River at 60 times the concentration permitted by federal law. Starr echoed the claims of previous speakers that merely covering pits and ponds like the one at the Lee plant “in place” rather than removing the ash to a lined landfill will ultimately prove inadequate and perhaps disastrous.
According to Starr, “The Neuse River is a drinking water source, as well as a popular fishing and recreation destination, but that’s all at risk due to coal ash pollution from the Lee Power Plant.” Starr went on to point out that in just a three-year span “seeps” from the site (what he called “a nice word for poison”) had caused at least 279 groundwater standards violations in just one three-year period.
At the conclusion of the event, speakers carted the boxes of petitions featuring the 40,000-plus signatures (pictured below) into the Governor’s office in the Old Capitol.