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Duke Energy havoc: The unaddressed coal ash crisis and McCrory’s ethics problems

Coal ash clean upThis morning’s Weekly Briefing tries to bring readers up to date on the sad state of North Carolina’s coal ash debate and the surprising — and potentially tragic — lack of action by state leaders to confront Duke Energy and protect the public’s well-being.

One important side story to the coal ash crisis that it does not get into, however, is the increasingly absurd saga of Gov. McCrory’s failure to report his Duke Energy holdings on required state ethics forms. Fortunately, Sunday’s Charlotte Observer editorial page took care of that issue pretty comprehensively:

“We’re not sure which is most upsetting:

• That Gov. Pat McCrory owned a substantial amount of Duke Energy stock for his first 15 months in office, including for two months after Duke’s massive coal ash spill, even though that posed an obvious conflict of interest as the utility lobbied the administration hard on all kinds of matters.

• That McCrory filed an inaccurate report with the State Ethics Commission, saying he didn’t own any Duke stock as of Dec. 31, 2013, when in fact he did. Doing so reveals either a desire to mislead or gross incompetence by him and his general counsel.

• That McCrory still doesn’t get it. The governor maintains “we haven’t broken any rules” when that is indisputably untrue. He says he is “amazed” at the questions surrounding his mistake, fully unable to comprehend that it’s a matter most North Carolinians consider newsworthy.”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/08/16/5109117/mccrorys-mishandling-of-his-duke.html#.U_IW-8VdVAI#storylink=cpy
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More advocates pan coal ash legislation

Coal AshAs this morning’s “Monday Numbers” make clear, the coal ash clean-up legislation making its way through the General Assembly falls short in numerous ways. This statement from the League of Conservation Voters expands on this conclusion:

Legislative Watch: Not Good Enough on Coal Ash

“We could and should have done better for the citizens of North Carolina,” declared Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).

The N.C. House last week approved its version of SB 729, “Coal Ash Management Plan of 2014”, but the bill was not the significantly strengthened alternative that conservationists had been hoping to see. Instead, it continued to show the same major flaws found in the original Senate bill, plus one associated with its proposed new coal ash board:

• It fails to assign financial responsibility for cleanup to Duke Energy and its stockholders, leaving the likelihood that ratepayers will end up paying billions to correct Duke’s coal ash management errors.
• It allows coal ash pits to be “capped in place”, avoiding genuine cleanup and leaving groundwater and surface waters vulnerable to continued leaking and contamination.
• It fails to direct expeditious closure and cleanup of most coal ash pits, allowing long delays before corrective action.
• It authorizes a newly created Coal Ash Management Commission to delay cleanups and extend deadlines even further if it concludes that needed fixes are too expensive.

Read more

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House coal ash bill falls well short of what’s necessary

Coal AshThe North Carolina House passed a weakened version of the already inadequate Senate coal ash plan today and environmental experts quickly labeled the legislation as wholly inadequate.

Here’s the rather measured statement from the folks at the NC Sierra Club:

“After weeks of expectation and speculation, the House missed the opportunity to build on the Senate’s good start and to address key shortcomings in the legislation. Under Speaker Tillis’ leadership, the House failed to make the final set of changes needed to give North Carolinians the protection they deserve from Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash.

There are no clear requirements in this legislation to ensure it does what it’s intended to do: remove the threat of coal ash to all our waters, and all our communities.

Not only does the bill fail to add protections missing from the Senate version of the bill, but it appears to undermine a recent court ruling stemming from a citizen suit that would require Duke Energy to immediately eliminate the source of its groundwater contamination.

North Carolinians’ right to clean water has been under threat by coal ash for decades. As lawmakers try to settle their differences on this bill in conference committee, communities are counting on them to protect their families and water.”

Meanwhile, activists at NC WARN — which has battled Duke Energy for years over myriad issues — were even more pointed: Read more

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Experts: Senate coal ash bill is an improvement but still not nearly enough

Coal AshLest anyone have the impression that the coal ash clean-up plan adopted in the Senate yesterday takes care of all of the problems and inadequacies in the Governor’s proposal, be sure to check out this list compiled by the experts at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Though certainly an improvement (the Sierra Club calls it “a good job of setting out a clear timeline for coal ash clean up”), the Senate plan still leaves more than a quarter of the state’s population unprotected. As the SELC folks report:

“The current N.C. Senate Coal Ash Bill would leave at risk about 2.6 million people who rely on drinking water intakes downstream from ten leaking Duke Energy coal ash sites not required to be cleaned up under the bill. These ten leaking coal ash sites are contaminating groundwater, rivers and lakes near communities across North Carolina.

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A day after fracking law approved, coal ash disaster comes before state Senate

Coal ash clean upA day after yesterday’s disappointing but expected approval by Gov. McCrory of a new law to fast-track fracking in North Carolina, the General Assembly moves on to another critical environmental issue today — coal ash. The good folks at the Sierra Club issued the following statement about today’s 9:30 a.m. meeting:

“On Thursday, June 5, the Senate Committee on Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources will discuss S 729, the Governor’s Coal Ash Action Plan. The plan, which drew widespread criticism for not going far enough when announced, has been referenced as a starting point by the Senate….

Public outcry for addressing our state’s coal ash crisis came immediately after 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River in Rockingham County on February 2. The spill, which was the third largest coal ash spill ever in the United States, put a spotlight on a threat that has existed for decades.
Duke operates 14 facilities in North Carolina with leaky unlined coal ash pits, located next to rivers and lakes, all of which are contaminating groundwater. 1.5 million North Carolinians rely on drinking water sources downstream of these leaking, toxic coal ash pits.

How to best remove the coal ash from unlined pits next to our waterways will likely be part of the discussion tomorrow as the legislature looks for ways to strengthen the Governor’s plan. Read more