Commentary

Editorial: Guv needs to put clean water and public health first for families affected by coal ash chemicals

Coal ash pollutionIn case you missed it, this morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record hits a home run with its take on the abysmal ongoing performance of the McCrory administration in protecting citizens from water polluted with coal ash chemicals — a take that echoes the conclusions in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing.

“We hope Senate leader Phil Berger wasn’t right that Gov. Pat McCrory can’t be trusted to regulate Duke Energy.

‘The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer,’ Berger said in 2014….

…last week, troubling indications surfaced that Duke has been allowed to exert too much influence in the McCrory administration. A deposition by the state’s epidemiologist, Dr. Megan Davies, showed her concerns about the Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to withdraw warnings to hundreds of residents near Duke coal-ash ponds telling them their well water wasn’t safe to drink.

The deposition was part of a lawsuit against Duke.

Davies said she disagreed with the decision to tell residents their water was safe and attributed it to high-level meetings with Duke officials where they expressed concerns about the action. She also said the state health director, Dr. Randall Williams, was worried that the legislature might restrict his division’s authority if the warnings weren’t lifted.”

After going on to note that the issue is, admittedly, a complex one, the editorial concludes by noting that, when in doubt, officials must err on the side of protecting public health:

“But what’s most important is protecting people’s health. Last year, DEQ relied on guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it decided that concentrations of hexavalent chromium posed an unacceptable cancer risk. That decision was reversed this year on the pretext that the levels didn’t exceed the federal Safe Drinking Water Act standard. But environmentalists say that standard is for total chromium and isn’t relevant to the well water tested.

The people near these ponds, most in Gaston and Rowan counties, were told last year not to drink their water and then were told 11 months later they could. Williams said in March the state acted out of an abundance of caution originally but found there was no danger. Some residents understandably are angry, frustrated and confused.

This isn’t the only instance of abrupt changes in direction under suspicious circumstances. Recently, DEQ ended the controversial ‘SolarBees’ project in Jordan Lake — an experiment in water-mixing meant to break up algae blooms and improve water quality in that Triangle-area reservoir. It didn’t work, but a critical report was posted earlier this year, then removed and revised. Last week, the Environmental Management Commission voted to reject the revised report on the SolarBees as well as proposals for possible ‘relief’ from stream-buffer regulations. DEQ is sending it to the legislature anyway….”

The bottom line according to the N&R:

“Yet, clean water is vital to public health, whether it’s drawn from wells, rivers or reservoirs. The state must protect water safety ahead of all other interests.”

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