Environment

Finally, here is a list of DEQ, DHHS Science Advisory Board members — and it’s impressive

Chief Medical Officer and State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson. (Courtesy photo)

Toxicologists, ecologists, air quality experts and public health officials: After a wait of more than two months, the list of 16 appointees to the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board has been posted on the NC Department of Environmental Quality website.

The roster is current as of Oct. 17. The board will meet Monday, Oct. 23, at 3 p.m. in the Ground Floor Hearing Room of the Archdale Building, which faces Halifax Mall in Raleigh.

The members include Detlef Knappe, one of the scientists who originally discovered GenX in the Cape Fear River and in the drinking water at Wilmington’s Sweeney plant.

In August, as the GenX crisis was unfolding, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the expansion of the existing science advisory board and its role. Appointed by the secretaries of DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services, the board’s first charge is to study ways to better protect public health and the environment from new or emerging chemicals of concern, including GenX and hexavalent chromium.

However, environmental advocates have been quietly critical of the agencies’ slow response in appointing the board. Just last week, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan announced that Jamie Bartram, a professor and founding director of The Water Institute at UNC Chapel Hill, would be the chairman.

Here is the roster of the other members and their scientific backgrounds. According to their résumés, they all are accomplished in their respective fields.

W. Greg Cope, a toxicology and fisheries biology professor at NC State University (Photo: NCSU)

  • Tom Augspurger, is an adjunct associate professor in the toxicology program at NC State University. He specializes in ecology and environmental contaminants as a specialist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service in Raleigh.
  • W. Greg Cope, an NC State professor in toxicology and fisheries biology, focuses on pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, metals, the impacts of sediments and ecosystems. He is also affiliated with the Southeast Climate Science Center, which is under the US Department of the Interior.
  • Richard T. Di Giulio, a professor of environmental toxicology at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, also directs the university’s Superfund Research Center. He also leads the integrated toxicology and environmental health program. Di Giulo’s research has also found contamination in waterways related to coal-fired power plants.
  • David Dorman, the associate dean for research and graduate studies at NC State’s veterinary school is also a toxicology professor. He has contributed to a the National Research Council on projects related to toxicology and human risk assessment. Dorman was appointed to the original Science Advisory Board in 2011.

    Elaina Kenyon, a toxicologist at the EPA in Research Triangle Park. (Photo: LinkedIn)

Elaina Kenyon, a research toxicologist, works at the EPA in Research Triangle Park. A member of the original SAB since 1996, she has published research on air toxics, risk assessment and toxicological modeling.

Thomas Starr of TBS Associates, an environmental consulting company, has also worked as an adjunct associate professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health. A past member of an EPA science advisory board on a type of compound known as halogenated organics. These chemical are used in several common products, including pesticides, paint and flame retardants.

  • Dr. Woodhall Stopford of Duke University’s Department of Community and Family Medicine has written more than 80 publications on workplace-related toxicology, pesticides and contaminants in consumer products. A board member since 1990, Stopford also served on an EPA panel assessing the risks of dioxins in ceramics.
  • John Vandenburg, the national program director of the EPA’s Human Health Risk Assessment Program, focuses on hazardous air pollutants and risk. He also worked as an adjunct professor at the Duke Nicholas School, where he specialized in toxicology and environmental policy.
  • State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Betsey Tilson is a pediatrician and works in preventative medicine. She also was a assistant consulting professor and cancer control specialist with Duke University Medical Center and as a clinical pediatric fellow UNC Chapel Hill.
  • Philip Tarte, has been the New Hanover County Public Health director since July 2016. He sits on the NC Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Advisory Board and NC Institute of Medicine board.
  • Viney Aneja is a professor in NC State’s Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He has been appointed to the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors Exeutive Committee and chairs a related committee on Air, Climate and Energy.
  • Jaqueline Gibson, an associate professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, researches how environmental policy decisions affect population health. Among her research work is “Strategies to improve private well water quality: a North Carolina perspective,” which will soon be published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
  • Gina Kimble supervises the lab for the Charlotte water system. She serves on the NC Urban Water Consortium and as an advisory committee member for the Water Resources Research Institute.
  • A professor of aquatics, wildlife and zoological medicine at NC State, Michael Stoskopf researches ecosystems and the health of wildlife species, including the endangered red wolf. He also directs the Environmental Medicine Consortium at NCSU.

Dr. Michael Stoskopf and Dr. Anne Acton (right) examine a sleeping red wolf at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The lone wolf is part of a study of the endangered species and the red wolf reintroduction program. (Photo by Roger Winstead)

Environment

NC WARN taking its solar case vs Duke Energy to state Supreme Court

NC WARN installed a 5.25-kilowatt solar system on the roof of Faith Community Church and sells it the electricity. Duke Energy has successfully argued that the sales qualify NC WARN as a utility. (Photo: NC WARN)

The question of whether the nonprofit environmental group NC WARN behaved like a public utility in selling a small amount of solar power to a Greensboro church will now be decided by the state Supreme Court.

NC WARN filed its intent to appeal today. Three judges from the state appeals court ruled against the nonprofit — and for Duke Energy — in September. But since the decision was split 2–1, the case automatically goes to the supreme court.

The dispute began in 2015, when NC WARN, at the request of Faith Community Church,  installed a 5.25-kilowatt system on the roof. The system covers only part of the building’s energy needs; the church buys the rest of its power from Duke.

Legislation passed this year made is legal in North Carolina, under certain circumstances to lease solar power as a third-party. But NC WARN is selling the energy as part of its financing agreement for the solar system with the church.

As part of a power purchase agreement, the church leases the system from NC WARN by paying 5 cents a kilowatt hour for solar-generated electricity. Duke Energy has successfully argued that the very act of selling power transforms NC WARN into a utility and infringes on Duke’s legal monopoly.

Appeals Court Judge Chris Dillon, though, disagreed. He wrote that NC WARN wasn’t acting as a public utility because one church doesn’t meet the definition of “public.” Nor does the nonprofit’s financial arrangement of leasing the system — basing it on a kilowatt hour basis rather than a flat monthly rate, Dillon wrote.

The Rev. Nelson Johnson, pastor of Faith Community Church, issued a statement about the case today:

“We are eager to take this pivotal case to the NC Supreme Court with our partners at NC WARN.  With the ominous recent advances of global heat and destructive weather that are hurting so many people nearby and around the world, there has never been a more important time to challenge Duke Energy’s attempts to control the benefits we are all provided by the sun.”  

NC WARN has stopped selling power to the church until the court case is resolved. The group has escrowed the money the church had already paid.

Environment

Federal lawsuit alleges Chemours engaged in “willful, wanton and reckless conduct” over C8 and GenX discharges

Areas shaded in blue receive water from the Cape Fear River, which is treated by the Sweeney plant in Wilmington. A new contaminant, GenX, has been found in drinking water supplies.
Areas in green rely on groundwater. Closer to the plant, in Fayetteville, elevated levels of GenX have been detected in private drinking water wells. (Map: Cape Fear Public Utility Authority)

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is accusing Chemours/DuPont of “willful and wanton” conduct over the company’s secret discharge of GenX and other pollutants into the Cape Fear River. Those chemical compounds wound up in the drinking water of several communities near the Fayetteville Works plant and farther downstream, including Wilmington.

The allegation was one of several in a complaint filed this afternoon in federal court against the company. The utility is asking the court for a jury trial, which given widespread concern about the contamination, Chemours is likely to oppose.

The utility is basing its action on Chemours/DuPont’s alleged “nuisance, negligence, trespass, harm to riparian rights, failure to warn, and negligent manufacture (products liability).” The complaint also alleges Chemours and DuPont “recklessly disregarded the rights and safety of others.”

The filing contains several points regarding what DuPont knew concerning the health effects of GenX and similar compounds like C8, which has been linked to cancer. The company had begun studying the health effects of GenX no later than 1963, according to the court documents.

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Environment

FERC approves Atlantic Coast Pipeline; lawsuits are likely

In a Friday night surprise, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted 2-1 to approve the $5.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, 160 miles of which will run through eastern North Carolina. However, the project still has yet to receive its required state permits and it is likely to face legal challenges from environmental advocates.

FERC “completely abdicated its responsibility,” said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina. “It based its decision on cyclical reasoning and was highly dependent on accepting unconditionally the information provided by the utilities.”

The 159-page order, which included an extensive dissent from Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, contains many puzzling if not contradictory conclusions. The decision acknowledged “the project will result in some adverse and significant environmental impacts,” including to the detriment of more than 100 endangered, threatened or at-risk species over the entire 600-mile route, “but that these impacts will be reduced to acceptable levels,” as long as contractors meet the 73 conditions — which are not enforceable — as laid out in the ruling.

FERC completely abdicated its responsibility, says @cwfnc Click To Tweet

Duke CEO Lynn Good issued a statement Friday 10:38 p.m. calling FERC’s approval is an important milestone and a critical step forward for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to deliver the benefits of affordable, clean natural gas and affirms the project will be built with minimal impacts to the environment.”

In North Carolina, state regulators and environmental groups are concerned about the project’s effect on wetlands and waterways, particularly the Neuse River. Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, which is primarily owned by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, plan to use an invasive method of installing the pipeline across the river, called a cofferdam. To put it in human medical terms, a cofferdam is like having an open incision rather than laparoscopic surgery.

An example of cyclical reasoning is FERC’s contention that ACP, LLC is new to the pipeline marketplace “with no existing customers.” While the ACP is Duke and Dominion’s first foray into the pipeline world, these utilities do have existing customers — their electric ratepayers, who will foot the bill for the project, plus the 14 percent rate of return.

In her prepared statement, Good said that “natural gas from the pipeline will increase consumer savings, enhance reliability, enable more renewable energy and provide a powerful engine for statewide economic development and job growth.”

The details of how those purported benefits, particularly regarding renewable energy will be realized is unclear. Opponents have argued that natural gas can be shipped via existing pipelines, and that the additional supply is not needed. Duke and Dominion have countered that 96 percent of the natural gas is spoken for. However, these are not outside parties — industry, for example — clamoring for natural gas, but the utilities themselves. FERC acknowledged that five of the six “shippers,” as they are known, are affiliated with the utilities. But FERC determined that the incestuous relationship doesn’t require the commission to examine the agreements to evaluate the need for the project.

FERC also denied commenters’ requests for an evidentiary trial-type hearing on the project, saying that the issues “have been adequately argued, and a determination can be made on the basis of the existing record in this proceeding.” This is likely a response to repeated protests at its hearings. FERC has enacted rules to keep demonstrators at bay; it also has sequestered commenters from the media while making their statements.

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Environment

DEQ names head of science advisory board, will tackle emerging contaminants in drinking water

Jamie Bartram, founding director of The Water Institute at UNC Chapel Hill. He is the new chairman of the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board. (Photo: UNC Chapel Hill)

A distinguished UNC professor who has written about the Flint water crisis and other drinking water contamination issues, is the chairman of the newly formed state Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board, the Department of Environmental Quality announced today.

Jamie Bartram, a professor and founding director of The Water Institute at UNC Chapel Hill, will lead the board. Its first charge is to study ways to better protect public health and the environment from new or emerging chemicals of concern, including GenX and hexavalent chromium.

The Water Institute is a division of UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Institute researchers study and report on pressing water quality issues, not just in the U.S., but worldwide.

It has conducted important research in North Carolina, including a 2014 analysis that showed racial disparities in access to municipal water and sewer services. For example, in Wake County, Black communities are significantly less likely than white communities to be connected to a municipal water supply system.

The science panel is appointed by DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen. It will meet at least six times each year.

The panel has several duties:

  • perform or recommend reviews and evaluations of contaminants released to the environment;
  • consult on potential DEQ regulations about those contaminants;
  • assist both agencies in identifying contaminants of emerging concern
  • help determine whether the contaminants should be studied further;
  • assist the secretaries in providing expertise to evaluate the human and environmental impacts of exposure to hazardous contaminants;
  • and provide input to DHHS as the agency establishes health goals for emerging contaminants.

Earlier this year, Gov. Roy Cooper expanded the scope of the panel, formerly known as Secretary’s Science Advisory Board on Toxic Air Pollutants.

DEQ and the DHHS have yet to announce membership of the board, which will meet Oct. 23. The meetings will be public, although the place and time have also not been announced.