When Gov. Pat McCrory decided to repudiate the state’s veteran toxicologist, Ken Rudo, about coal ash — one of the most controversial issues facing North Carolina — he didn’t do it himself. Instead, he sent his chief of staff, Thomas Stith, to do the difficult work.
In a late-night press conference designed only for the TV cameras — newspapers and digital media, including NCPW, were not notified of the event — Stith denounced Rudo’s deposition. In it, Rudo said that state health and environmental officials told homeowners their drinking water was safe when in fact, it was contaminated with cancer-causing hexavalent chromium from coal ash.
The state initially told residents not to drink their well water, but later reversed its position and said it was safe.
Rudo had been deposed by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The SELC has sued Duke Energy, McCrory’s former employer, over violations of the Clean Water Act in the coal ash spills.
Rudo testified that McCrory’s office had summoned him to the governor’s office to discuss the language in the advisory DEQ would send to well owners. (In the deposition Rudo even remembers what he was wearing — a T-shirt, shorts and moccasins. He was concerned he wasn’t properly dressed for the occasion.)
McCrory wasn’t there, but his communications director, Josh Ellis, was, and arranged a conference call with the governor, Rudo said in his deposition.
“Once again, I don’t know whether this was from Mr. Ellis or from the Governor, because the Governor never actually specifically said what, you know, his concerns were,” Rudo testified.
“But he had a concern about what we were telling these folks on the forms. Their concern was initially telling people not to drink the water. He felt that was a pretty strong thing to do.”
According to WRAL, Rudo stands by his deposition; in it, he referred to notes from the phone call.
In turn Stith, and by proxy, McCrory, said that Rudo had lied under oath in the deposition taken by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
It’s unknown if McCrory’s office has its own notes. NCPW has filed an open records request for documents related to the allegations.
The governor’s denouncement is the latest in a full-court press against Rudo. Duke Energy, which is responsible for the leaking coal ash ponds that led to the contamination, filed a request for an injunction to prevent Rudo’s deposition from being released in the public court record. Duke’s justification was that it contained erroneous information.
Kendra Gerlach, communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services, has also denounced Rudo’s statements.