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Coal ash eventSome victims of Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution gathered with a group of advocates and activists in front of the North Carolina Governor’s mansion this morning. Their message to Gov. Pat McCrory (who was recently revealed to have had a secret dinner meeting last summer with representatives of his longtime former employer (i.e. Duke) even as the company was facing prosecution for its misdeeds):

“Come have dinner with us too….Oh, and bring some water, too.”

Lord knows they could use both.

The water would come in handy because Duke has now informed a large number of folks living near ash sites in Goldsboro, Belmont and other places that their water is no longer safe to drink. Indeed, the company is now providing these folks with one gallon of bottled water per person per day for an indeterminate period even as it continues to drag its feet in cleaning up the sites.

As one homeowner noted (after listing some of the numerous untimely deaths that have occurred in her community from cancers and other diseases), “just imagine trying to live this way.”

And the dinner meeting? Well, if McCrory would actually break bread with some of these people (many of whom stated this morning that they have been asking for such a meeting for months to no avail) it might force him to summon up a smidgen of empathy. After all, we’re talking about average, middle and working class folks living in the 21st Century in one of the most advanced societies on the planet, who have lost access to one of the fundamentals of life: safe drinking water.

It’s enough to make a body think of the ongoing disaster in Flint, Michigan (where the city and state are now attempting to deal with the fallout from having poisoned a large portion of the citizenry through their shortsighted decision to save a few bucks).

Indeed, as one public health expert argued persuasively the other day, it’s quite plausible that the scandal in Flint amounts to a human rights violation:

“This emergency goes beyond simply a public health problem….It is something much worse: a human rights abuse in an American city. In 2010, the United Nations declared that ‘ … clean drinking water … [is] essential to the realization of all human rights.’ Flint’s contaminated water will prevent children from realizing their human right to health, enumerated in Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Let’s hope things don’t get that far in North Carolina. But if these wronged North Carolinians don’t soon get some relief, perhaps it’s time to start raising the same question here: Are Duke Energy and the McCrory administration committing (or, at least, enabling) a human rights violation? It would be interesting to hear McCrory’s explanation as to why they aren’t.

Commentary, News

A statewide citizens group formed last year to demand stronger state environmental protection efforts to combat coal ash pollution is decrying the new state rankings attached to the state’s coal ash ponds and the closed door meeting between Gov. McCrory and Duke energy officials that came to light this week. Here are some excerpts from a press release that the group distributed yesterday:

“The Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash formed in July as a way for residents from across the state to connect in solidarity in their demands for an end to the coal ash crisis. Members were appalled and confused last week when DEQ downgraded coal ash sites that as recently as December the agency’s staff had ranked as high priority. The proposed low or low-intermediate status means the sites could potentially be capped in place and left indefinitely to leak toxins into neighboring groundwater supplies.

‘It’s an established fact that all sites are leaking, so of course they should be listed as high priority,’ says Deborah Graham, who lives near the Buck plant in Salisbury. ‘We know more than we ever wanted to know about the damage this toxic waste causes to our environment and health each and every day it continues to sit there.’

‘DEQ changing our priority from high to low-intermediate is just wrong,’ says Debra Baker, who lives within 100 feet of the G.G. Allen plant in Belmont. ‘DEQ says they did not have enough information from Duke Energy, but they have had several months. Now, we are still living on bottled water, waiting for this mess to be cleaned up.’

To urgently address the realities of coal ash pollution, ACT Against Coal Ash released its Unifying Principles so that state decision makers, Duke Energy, and the public can better understand the needs and demands of residents most harmed — now or in the future — by Duke’s coal ash pollution.

The alliance also launched a website and a video.

And here are some statements made by ACT Against Coal Ash members in response to yesterday’s WRAL.com story that Gov. McCrory met with Duke Energy officials in a private, closed door meeting last June:

From Debra Baker, whose husband died from environmentally related lung disease several years after moving into their home next to G.G. Allen, which has been illegally polluting the air for decades:”I’ve tried calling and emailing Governor McCrory. I’ve sent him photographs of my house full of bottled water. And all I’ve gotten is his automatic email response. He’s never called, sent a letter, nothing. I’m mad that he’s having backroom meetings with Duke Energy but won’t talk to us. It seems like he thinks my husband’s life doesn’t matter. My husband was only 43 years old when he passed. Now, I’m a widow with a 19 year old son. They think this problem is just going to go away, but it’s not. It’s our lives. They need to talk to us.”

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Commentary

ACoal Ashs noted in this space yesterday morning, federal regulators have been forced in recent days to put the kibosh on yet another sweetheart arrangement between Duke Energy and the McCrory administration that would have allowed the company to begin to address some of the problems in its coal ash “ponds” by draining the toxic liquid directly into rivers and streams. What could go wrong, huh?

This morning the editorial page of the Fayetteville Observer rightfully (if rather politely) criticizes the plan and issues a word of thanks to federal officials at the EPA for stepping in and putting up a big stop sign:

In late August, DENR told Duke it could begin draining all of its 33 ash ponds across the state. Three weeks later, the EPA intervened, pointing out that this would likely violate Duke’s wastewater discharge permits and allow massive amounts of polluted water to be dumped, with virtually no monitoring for the impact on water quality.

Ponds at Duke’s shut-down Cape Fear power plant, which sits upstream from water-treatment plants for Lee, Harnett and Cumberland counties, hold an estimated billion gallons of coal-ash-contaminated wastewater. According to the EPA, DENR would have allowed Duke to dump it all in the river.

A Duke vice president complained that being forced to comply with its permits may make it impossible to meet a cleanup timetable.

We’re grateful that the EPA stepped in, but sorry to see DENR again being so casual about our health and safety. We hope the feds continue to watch closely.

Let’s hope the McCrory administration doesn’t give a lot of folks good reason to get a lot less polite with their criticism in the days ahead. We’re not, however, holding our breath on that front.

Commentary

In case you missed it on Friday, Michael Biesecker at AP had another troubling story on Duke Energy’s seemingly metastasizing coal ash mess. This is the lead:

Federal environmental officials spurred North Carolina regulators to reverse a policy allowing Duke Energy to drain massive amounts of polluted wastewater from its coal ash dumps directly into the state’s rivers and lakes, according to documents.

The Southern Environmental Law Center released documents Friday showing that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources quietly gave Duke approval on Aug. 28 to start emptying liquids from all of its 33 coal ash dumps across the state through existing drain pipes at the facilities.

Good grief! What’s next? Direct pipelines into the backyards of all of Duke’s residential customers? Meanwhile, this is from Dan Besse’s Monday morning update for the League of Conservation Voters:

Around the state…Recalculating?

Users of GPS devices can attest to the high annoyance factor of the perpetual “recalculating…” messages received when they take a wrong turn.

Perhaps that helps explain our aggravation at Duke energy’s latest “whoops” on coal ash. According to Duke, it appears that they ‘miscalculated’ the amount of toxic coal ash they have stored at leaking pits around the state by, oh, about six million tons or so. Read More

News
Env NC press

Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr addresses the media alongside a family directly impacted by Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash pond at the Lee power plant near Goldsboro.

Advocates and activists for stronger action on coal ash than is included in the new state law that officially took effect today gathered outside the Old State Capitol in downtown Raleigh this morning to deliver more than 40,000 signatures to Governor Pat McCrory. The signatures represented roughly one North Carolinian for each ton of coal ash spilled into the Dan River at Duke Energy’s Eden facility in February.

Speakers at the event organized by the group Environment North Carolina were flanked by volunteers who held aerial photos of each of the ten coal ash dumps that will be left essentially unaddressed by the new legislation.

Kim Brewer, a former resident of Dukeville near the Buck Steam Plant in Rowan County assailed the new law as doing “nothing” to help her community. “There’s hexavalent chromium in our wells, and my two daughters were born with serious birth defects. My neighbors have suffered from brain tumors, cancer and respiratory problems that we believe are connected to coal ash pollution. We deserve a full cleanup. I don’t want any other family to go through what we’ve been through.” Read More