Ellis can’t remember the specifics of a phone call he received from McCrory during that meeting — although he’s positive it had nothing to do with coal ash.
Ellis can’t recall Rudo’s refusal to downplay the health risks of contaminated drinking water. But he does remember discussing “risk language” related to drinking water containing chemicals from coal ash.
During a two-hour deposition on Sept. 1, Ellis told lawyers for the Southern Environmental Law Center 48 times that he couldn’t recall certain details of how state officials decided to tell residents about the health risks of their drinking water.
However, Ellis does remember writing the first draft of a statement accusing Rudo of perjury. Rudo had testified that while at the meeting with Ellis and Kendra Gerlach, communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services, the governor had called and expressed a vague concern about what state officials were telling affected well owners.
Ellis learned about the testimony from Gerlach, who directed him to media reports and excerpts of Rudo’s deposition that had been posted online.
Thomas Stith, the governor’s chief of staff, took Ellis’ word for it and delivered those accusations in a late-night press conference in August.
“We wanted to address not only the statements that are in there, but also the narrative and the way that the story was being reported,” Ellis testified. “We wanted to address it immediately.”
Ellis testified that he didn’t call Rudo or the governor’s counsel, Bob Stephens, before writing the statement.
While Ellis’s testimony leaves a lot of questions unanswered, it does underscore the clash between the Departments of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services over how to accurately explain the health risks of contaminated drinking water.
DEQ and HHS had their own versions of health advisory letters; HHS’s contained stronger language about the drinking water risks. The primary contaminant in question was Chromium 6. DEQ’s wording stated that levels of the chemical in drinking water met federal standards. However, federal standards are much weaker than the state’s. In fact, the EPA is now considering adding Chromium 6, which is known to cause cancer, to its updated list of regulated contaminants.
Ellis testified that he had never discussed coal ash, Chromium 6 or Ken Rudo with officials from Duke Energy. He also said under oath that “to his knowledge” no one in the governor’s office discussed coal ash, Chromium 6 or the Coal Ash Management Act with the utility. However, Ellis testified he did not know what was discussed at a June 2015 meeting at the governor’s mansion with Duke Energy.