Environment

Because of leaking coal ash basins, DEQ wants a quicker clean up at three Duke Energy plants

These monitoring areas, signified by stars, coincide with seeps
emanating from the Marshall plant owned by Duke Energy. (Map: NC DEQ)

This post has been corrected to distinguish the dates of the basin dewatering (2018-19) from the basin closures (2029).

Duke Energy would expedite the dewatering of coal ash basins at three of its power plants ahead of schedule, according to a proposed special consent order released today between the utility and the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

The three plants under the consent order are considered low risk and due to be closed by 2029 at the latest. But because of the environmental threat associated with the ash basins and their seeps, Duke Energy would “decant” or remove all of the water from three plants on an accelerated schedule: By March 2020 at the Rogers plant Rutherford County, and in June of that year at the Allen site in Gaston County. The Marshall in Catawba County dewatering would be complete by March of 2021.

Under the Coal Ash Management Act, Duke Energy must close all of its coal ash basins in North Carolina by 2029. The closure date depends on how the basins are classified: low, intermediate or high risk, depending on their proximity to sensitive waterways.

Because they are dirt and unlined, these basins naturally leak. (Until now, DEQ has not required these seeps to receive a permit.) At the Allen, Marshall and Rogers plants have leaked coal-ash contaminated water onto nearby land, where it can mix with groundwater. These leaks, once they leave the basin, are called seeps.

Local watchdogs and riverkeepers have found many of the seeps.

Contamination from the Allen and Marshall plants also has leaked into the Catawba River, and from the Rogers plant into the Broad River. Other waterways, including Lake Wylie, Lake Norman and wetlands are also affected.

According to the order, “the presence of coal ash influenced water in the non-engineered seeps causes or contributes to pollution of the waters of this State.”

There are two types of seeps described in the proposed order: engineered, which are  intentionally designed and have received federal permits to discharge treated wastewater into nearby rivers; and non-engineered, which are essentially leaks that illegally drain into surface water, groundwater and/or land.

Duke Energy has agreed to pay an $84,000 civil penalty in connection with 21 seeps identified before Jan. 1, 2015. If the utility doesn’t comply with the consent order, DEQ could assess additional penalties, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per day.

Meanwhile, the utility must identify and report any new “non-engineered” seesps, and monitor and sample discharge from existing ones.

PUBLIC CAN COMMENT ON PROPOSED ORDER
Before the order can be enacted, the agency must open it for public comment and present it to the Environmental Management Commission for approval. A public hearing on the order is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Warren Citizens Center, 115 W. Main St. in Lincolnton.

The public can comment on the proposed order from Jan. 10 to Feb. 14. Written comments on the draft order may be sent to Bob Sledge, NC Division of Water Resources, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1617. Comments may also be submitted electronically to the following email address: publiccomments@ncdenr.gov.

 

Draft Soc #s17-009 by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

Environment

Interim report shows that home septic systems are feeding the algae in Jordan Lake

Urbanization of the Jordan Lake watershed is contributing to its pollution. Five of the 10 fastest-growing cities in North Carolina
are in the watershed: Durham, Greensboro and parts of Cary, plus Apex and Morrisville. (Map: NC DEQ)

Jordan Lake can’t catch a break. The drinking water reservoir for 300,000-plus people receives the brunt of human folly: industrial chemicals that sidestep available wastewater treatments, agricultural runoff in the form of fertilizers and feces, and yes, human excretions, along with contaminants that we pour down our sink drains.

An interim report on nutrient management in Jordan Lake reveals that of the many contributors to the reservoir’s problems, home septic systems in the watershed are a main culprit. And as the once-rural watershed has become more urban over the past 20 years, discharge from more of these systems is feeding the harmful algae in Jordan Lake.

“Residential developments on septic systems represent an ‘unlimited’ source” of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, the report says, versus other limited nutrient sources such as farms.

The interim report, delivered to the Environmental Review Commission in December, was produced by UNC System scientists hired by the NC Collaboratory, a think tank housed at UNC Chapel Hill. In the 2016 budget bill state lawmakers appropriated the Collaboratory is receiving  $500,000 annually over six years to study pollution sources and to identify potential solutions to the contamination in the Falls Lake and Jordan Lake watersheds. The first three years of the study focus on Jordan Lake, culminating with a final report by December 2018.

Mike Piehler, a joint associate professor at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences, is among the project leaders. He said the study encompasses “a pretty comprehensive picture of the natural and human system.”

In densely developed areas, heavy rainfall can wash nitrogen, phosphorus and debris into the lake, bypassing stormwater treatment and controls. Nitrogen and phosphorus — also known as nutrients — are known to stoke the growth of algae in waterways, particularly in warm weather.

Some types of blue-green algae are toxic to humans, birds and animals. But even more benign versions create problems for municipal water treatment plants because removing the algae from drinking water requires additional expensive treatment.

Beseiged by pollution, the Haw River flows into Jordan Lake from its headwaters in Reidsville. (Duke University and NC State University scientists hypothesize that wastewater into the Haw River, possibly from Orange County, is carrying perfluorinated compounds into the Haw. Farther upstream, industrial sources are likely responsible for another toxic contaminant, 1,4-dioxane.)

Lawmakers passed Jordan Lake rules in 2009, against the wishes of the real estate and homebuilders’ lobby. Since then, enforcement of the rules has been delayed. Meanwhile, since 2010, five of the 10 fastest-growing cities in North Carolina are within the Jordan Lake watershed, according to the UNC Carolina Population Center: Durham, parts of Cary, plus Greensboro, Morrisville and Apex.

Read more

Environment, Legislature

River Quality Committee sends GenX bill to full House, but Senate cooperation is uncertain

Rep. Elmer Floyd, a Cumberland County Democrat, sits on the
House Select Committee on River Quality (Photo: NCGA)

Gov. Roy Cooper had declared a state of emergency for more than a dozen North Carolina counties. Government offices were closed or delayed opening. Many roads were riddled with wrecked cars. Nonetheless, the House Select Committee River Quality was determined to vote on key water quality legislation, even if public comment was abridged by the snowstorm.

After 90 minutes of discussion, which largely reviewed issues from previous meetings, and comments from eight members of the public, the committee unanimously voted to send the bill to the full House.

The measure, Republican committee chairman Rep. Ted Davis, Jr. of New Hanover County acknowledged, is only “a first step.” As Policy Watch reported over the holiday, is largely a study bill without additional funding for the NC Department of Environmental Quality to fulfill the requirements.

“Draft legislation is long overdue,” Harper Peterson, a former mayor of Wilmington, told the committee. “What’s missing is investment.”

However, Davis did allow that in the unlikely event that both chambers could agree on an appropriation next week, a vote on funding wasn’t out of the question.

In its draft form, the bill contains a half-dozen provisions, all which fulfill Davis’s requirement that they present “short-term, non-controversial solutions.”

  • It would direct the state health department to work with the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board in establishing health goals for emerging contaminants, such as GenX;
  • The legislation would also require DEQ to study the reporting requirements for facilities that discharge wastewater into rivers, lakes and streams;
  • DEQ would also have to analyze the effectiveness of its approval process for NPDES wastewater discharge permits;
  • The agency would also share water quality data with neighboring states;
  • Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services would work with the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board to review and establish provisional health goals for these emerging contaminants in drinking water;
  • And UNC Chapel Hill and the School of Government would research the civil liability of public and private utilities that provide contaminated water to their customers — if the polluted discharge occurred in light of a lack of state or federal standards.

More complicated, even politically charged legislation will be delayed until the short session convenes in May.

“Politics is the art of the possible,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican. “It’s not as big a step as I like to take, but I’m not the king here.” However, should the House insert funding language, McGrady, as appropriations chairman, would have significant influence over the negotiations.

Davis said in addition to the Senate leadership, more than a dozen stakeholders had been briefed on the bill, including the League of Municipalities,  the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, Duke Energy, DEQ, the Coastal Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

SELC Senior Attorney Mary Maclean Asbill, though, clarified the firm’s position on the legislation. “We do not support this bill,” she said. “It doesn’t do anything to address GenX in the air. It doesn’t allow DEQ to pass new rules now. No reports are due until the end of 2018. It doesn’t help people who are drinking the water.”

SELC submitted to the committee more rigorous language for the bill: Tougher penalties for illegal discharges and stricter regulations on chemicals that can be discharged, even if there are no state or federal standards.

“This bill kicks the can down the road,” added Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr, and asks state agencies to address the problem “without the resources to do.”

Chemours, “a mega polluter,” Starr said, “has not shown a bit of remorse” for dumping GenX into the Cape Fear.

The problem of emerging contaminants, he added, is not confined to the Cape Fear River. Some level of GenX or similar chemical compounds have been found in 11 counties, most recently in the Haw River, Jordan Lake and the Town of Cary’s drinking water supply.

“It is lamentable that it took a public health crisis to create this committee,” said Will Hendrick, an attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance, who supported some components of the bill. “I congratulate the bill drafters’ deference to DEQ,” which has some autonomy, if not the money to exercise it, in the legislation.

But Hendrick also requested a dollar figure be attached to the bill, as well as a repeal  the Hardison Amendment. That statute prohibits DEQ and all state agencies from adopting regulations that are stricter than federal law. It was in effect from 1973 to 1995, when lawmakers repealed it. But in 2011, Republicans gained control over the legislature and reinstated the law.

In recent years, “state agencies have been shackled by this legislature,” Hendrick said. “Allow them to protect us by restoring the necessary resources necessary.”

Davis felt a time squeeze because the draft bill must be distributed to the full House in advance of a possible vote during the Jan. 10 special session. That session. expected to last no more than a day or two, was originally convened so lawmakers could take up the issue of constitutional amendments.  However, House Speaker Tim Moore is allowing a vote on the water quality bill.

Asbill challenged the notion that lawmakers had only two days to conduct their business. “There’s nothing that says the body can’t take the time next week,” she said. “Why not work with the Senate on this bill?”

Those with knowledge of the briefings have told Policy Watch that the Senate has not tipped its hand on how it will vote — a point Davis publicly reiterated.

“I can’t say what the Senate will do,” Davis said.

Sen. Phil Berger’s office could not be immediately reached for comment.

Rep. Elmer Floyd, a Cumberland County Democrat, seemed skeptical of the Senate’s cooperation. “Sometimes when we send things across the hall (to the Senate), things can slow down.”

The House and Senate are scheduled to convene Wednesday, Jan. 10, at noon.

 

Environment, What's Race Got To Do With It?

What’s race got to do with it? Census data show Black, Latino neighborhoods especially vulnerable to air pollution

Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series of NC Policy Watch blog posts examining disproportionate impacts on race — in the environment, education, the courts and other sectors — and the structural issues that lead to these inequalities.

With nearly all Black or Latino residents, a census block group in east-central Winston-Salem, including areas near two city parks, is disproportionately burdened by air pollution. Another block group near the highway interchange is also a minority neighborhood with chronic exposure to diesel emissions and other air toxics. (Maps: EPA Environmental Justice Screen)

Some time next year it’s expected money will start flowing from North Carolina’s $92 million Volkswagen settlement fund to projects designed to reduce diesel air pollution. Chosen by DEQ and approved by a federal trustee, the projects, such as installing electric car charging stations or retiring diesel school buses for cleaner hybrid/electric models, must address areas that are disproportionately harmed by air pollution.

And most of the time, these areas are predominantly Black, Latino or American Indian and/or low-income.

Public policy has a way of piling on these communities. Rarely will you see a million-dollar home abutting a landfill, but these working-class neighborhoods may be burdened not only by their proximity to an interstate, where they live in a cloud of microscopic and damaging pollutants, but also dirty neighbors: major industry, dumps, Superfund sites, power plants, gas stations and other sources of pollution.

These same Black, Latino, American Indian and low-income residents are also more likely to endure health problems (and often with irregular access to health care) from those very pollutants: childhood asthma from bad air, for example. According to federal health statistics, Black children are four times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for asthma, as compared to non-Hispanic white children. And in 2015, Black children had a death rate 10 times that of non-Hispanic white children.

Policy Watch used the EPA’s environmental justice screening tool to analyze several Census Block Groups in the state that appear vulnerable to both pollution and racial disparity. Here are some of our findings:

  • In one South Raleigh area bisected by the heavily traveled South Saunders Street, more than two-thirds of the 1,910 residents are Black and/or Latino. These neighborhoods also rank in the 97th percentile in EPA Region 4 for proximity to traffic. (This means these residents live closer to highly trafficked areas than 97 percent of census block groups within the eight Southeastern states in Region 4.) The block groups have similar rankings when compared to those statewide.
  •  In Winston-Salem, many underserved neighborhoods hug the major thoroughfares of I-40 and US 52. In east-central Winston near Rupert Bell Park, a block group that is 99 percent minority ranks in the mid-80th percentile both state and region-wide for ozone pollution and air toxics cancer risk. More than 1,470 people live in this block group. (See map at the top of the page.)
    The 1,055 people — all Black and/or Latino — who live near the I-40/ US 52 interchange are especially at risk of pollution-related illness. This block group ranks in the 92nd to 96th percentile for exposure to diesel emissions, air toxic cancer risk and respiratory hazards.
  • And in Fayetteville, a neighborhood of 2,309 at the northern gateway to the city is 69 percent minority, according to EPA data. Regionwide, it ranks in the 84th percentile for diesel particulate matter and 94th for its proximity to Superfund sites, which can also contribute to air pollution.

 

 

 

Environment

“There is no choice”: Teens petition Environmental Management Commission to reduce carbon emissions to zero

 

Arya Pontula, 17, attends Enloe High School in Raleigh. She became involved with climate change activism as a sophomore through the Alliance for Climate Education’s Action Fellowship. She is helping Enloe transition to 100 percent renewable energy. (Photos: Lisa Sorg)

Although the eastern half of the United States is gripped by a record-setting cold snap, the frigid weather — contrary to Tweets from @realdonaldtrump — doesn’t indicate that climate change is waning. In fact, much of the rest of the globe is warmer than average, as much as 6 degrees above normal in the Arctic.

A comparatively balmy Arctic is thought to be responsible for our bone-chilling weather. Climate change in the form of melting sea ice allows the polar vortex to venture farther south instead of sticking close to its natural home — the North Pole.

The rapidly changing climate and its consequences for future generations compelled three teenagers to petition the state’s Environmental Management Commission to pass a rule committing the state to eliminate its carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Along with methane, carbon dioxide emissions are potent greenhouse gases and primary drivers of climate change.

The young women — Emily Liu, Arya Pontula and Hallie Turner — are represented by Ryke Longest and Michelle Nowlin of Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.

Most of the CO2 would be reduced via a complete changeover from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, even the state’s burgeoning wood pellet industry) to renewables and energy efficiency.

Longest and Nowlin estimate the cost of eliminating CO2 emissions over the next 32 years would  total about $327 billion. However, they wrote in the petition, that amount would be “outweighed by the economic and social benefits that accompany reductions in CO2 emissions and the transition away from a fossil-fuel based economy. The costs of inaction include severe negative impacts on infrastructure, agriculture, and human health in North Carolina.”

Liu, Pontula and Turner met Policy Watch over the holiday break at Duke University School of Law. Over hot tea and coffee, the three discussed their hopes about a carbon-free future — and their concerns for future generations if we can’t achieve those reductions.. The interview (4:45)  has been edited for length and clarity.

 

 

 

Emily Liu, 16, is a student at East Chapel Hill High School. For the last three years, she has been engaged in research and outreach involving climate change. Her passion for environmental science developed through her participation in the University of North Carolina’s Climate Leadership and
Energy Awareness program and the Alliance for Climate Education’s Action Fellowship program.

Hallie Turner is 15. She attends Enloe High School. As an avid runner who loves the natural wonders of North Carolina, she is concerned that the state’s forests, beaches, and mountain ecosystems will be irreparably impacted by further delaying
climate action. “The Environmental Management Commission is constitutionally obligated to protect our state’s natural resources for future generations,” she said.