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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

Commentary

Coal ash clean upThere have been several noteworthy reactions to Governor Pat McCrory’s strange decision to simply let the General Assembly’s coal ash legislation become law without his signature last week. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger came this close to accusing the Governor of – yikes! – improper bias toward his longtime employer when he said the following in a statement reported this morning by the Greensboro News & Record:

“The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”

Veteran environmental advocate and Winston-Salem city councilman Dan Besse got it just about right, however, when he authored the following for the weekly newsletter of N.C. League of Conservation Voters this morning: Read More

Commentary

McC709It was just a few years ago that opponents of then-Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama were howling at the notion that he had voted “present” on multiple occasions while a state legislator in Illinois (something that’s permitted for lawmakers in the Land of Lincoln but not  in most states — North Carolina included).

The gist of the not-unfounded criticism at the time was that a “present” vote was and is a pretty gutless way out of taking a stance on sticky issues. If one goes to all the trouble of running for office and serving as an elected representative of the people, went/goes the reasoning, the least a lawmaker can do is to have the courage to make a decision when presented with a choice of whether something will be made law or not.

Such logic would seem to apply with even more force to a governor when it comes to approving or not approving a bill sent to him or her by a legislature. After all, it’s not like he or she is just one of a couple of hundred legislators whose vote may or may not even really matter. The constitution specifies that the decision to sign or veto a bill is his or hers alone. (It should probably also be noted that when a U.S. president fails to sign a bill while Congress is out of session, the effect is to veto the bill — the process is known as a “pocket veto.”)

This brings us, of course, to yesterday’s decision by Governor Pat McCrory to let the controversial — many would say “thoroughly inadequate” — coal ash “clean up” bill become law by simply not acting on it. Read More

Uncategorized

McCrory budgetIn case you missed it over the weekend, Gov. Pat McCrory told an interviewer that he plans to sign the coal ash clean-up bill even though he believes that part of it is unconstitutional. This is from a story on WRAL.com:

McCrory said the bill’s creation of an independent coal ash oversight commission, appointed by House and Senate leaders and the governor, blurs the separation of powers of different branches of the government – just one example, he added, among several such proposals lawmakers advanced this year.

“I’m going to have to fight them from a constitutional standpoint, including even the coal ash commission,” he told Campbell. “I think this concept of creating commissions that are appointed by the legislature – or a majority by the legislature – is unconstitutional, regardless of the subject. Because that means the legislature is doing the operations of state government, which is not their responsibility. I think there’s a constitutional issue there.

How such a position squares with the Governor’s sworn duty to support the Constitution is hard to figure. Of course, when you’re listening to the rather unique policy observations of North Carolina’s current chief executive, you always have to take things with a grain of salt. In the same interview, the Guv expressed his approval for the General Assembly’s rejection of another bill during the waning hours of session last week because it contained multiple, unrelated topics. Again, this is from the WRAL story:

“There were parts of the bill that had no relevance to the other part of the bill, and that’s not the way you should do legislation,” he said.

Uh, Governor, we hate to tell you this, but you’ve already signed dozens of bill that do exactly the same thing — most notably, the infamous SB 353 from just last year. You remember that one. It dealt with those two closely-related topics: abortion clinic regulations and motorcycle safety.
Uncategorized

One of the most knowledgeable environmental advocacy groups working on North Carolina’s coal ash dilemma — the state chapter of the Sierra Club — had mixed reviews for the new legislation approved by lawmakers yesterday:

NC Sierra Club Response to Final Passage of S 729, Coal Ash Management Act

The legislature today gave final approval to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that for the first time regulates coal ash like other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash.

Following the Dan River coal ash spill, revelations that coal ash pollution has contaminated rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water resulted in an unprecedented public demand for action. Duke Energy produces an estimated 1.2 million tons of coal ash a year in North Carolina. Currently, all coal ash sites have groundwater contamination and nearly all are releasing contaminants into rivers, lakes or reservoirs.

The bill will require Duke Energy to phase out wet ash handling. Duke’s outdated method of disposing of coal ash in ponds next to waterways has led to water contamination across the state. With the passage of this bill, for the first time all coal ash will be covered by North Carolina’s solid waste laws. Further, when coal ash is used as fill to build up land for large construction projects, measures like groundwater monitoring and liners will be required.

Unfortunately, final changes to the conference report intended to protect against ongoing groundwater pollution at ten sites do not go far enough to address a major issue that must be resolved to protect NC residents and communities.

Read More