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Coal ashIn case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out this essay by Raleigh News & Observer editorial page editor Ned Barnett in which explains and laments the demise of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Be sure to check it out even if you saw the print version, because the virtual one includes video clips of Barnett’s interview with former DENR regional supervisor Amy Adams (currently of the group Appalachian Voices).

As Barnett puts it in the essay:

Adams originally welcomed the call for efficiency [at DENR]. Like most bureaucracies, DENR needed streamlining and focus. But she balked and quit once it became clear that the real change at DENR would be less, not smarter, enforcement. DENR’s new role would be to guide permit applicants through what Skvarla calls ‘the maze’ of regulations.

As Adams puts it, the message from DENR’s leadership, stripped of its customer service code words, was: ‘Stop investigating, stop enforcing and just be someone out there holding a hand.’ Read More

DENR Secretary John Skvarla

DENR Secretary John Skvarla

Students of history will remember that back in the bad old days of the Soviet Union, once prominent leaders would sometimes “disappear” from official government photos and records when they fell from favor with the powers that be. One year an official could be a close ally of Stalin and the next simply become a “non-person.”

“Comrade Zinoviev? Never heard of him.”

It now appears that North Carolina may well have embarked on a similar path when it comes to one of the most important public policy issues of our time. According to WRAL.com, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (an agency already battered by the disastrous publicity it has received in the aftermath of the Dan River coal ash disaster) has decided to make climate change a “non-issue.” This is from the WRAL story:

“Links and documents about climate change have recently disappeared from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources website. Read More

An editorial in Sunday’s edition of the Fayetteville Observer says that now is no time for the state of North Carolina to ease the pressure on Duke Energy:

“The Southern Environmental Law Center sued in 2012 over the failure of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources under Perdue’s watch to regulate Duke’s coal-ash dumps effectively. The group says the situation changed under McCrory-appointed DENR chief John Skvarla – it got worse.

A judge’s ruling Thursday condemned Duke’s behavior and DENR’s haplessness.

Duke has resisted moving the coal ash to safer storage, while more abuses have come to light. DENR cited Duke last week for operating without permits. Duke also denied using additional corrugated pipe, the failure of which caused the Dan River spill. Investigators have since found repeated use of the material.

Amid this mess, Skvarla contradicted McCrory by questioning a mandated cleanup. Skvarla worried the state might get tied up in years of litigation. He’s giving McCrory cause to bring in someone serious about environmental protection to run DENR….

Duke Energy: poisoner of water and soil, enemy of public health and deceitful band of cheaters. Read More

Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled today that Duke Energy must take immediate action to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination that are currently violating water quality standards at all 14 of its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, the ruling comes in the wake of recent claims by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that it lacks the legal authority to require cleanup of the ash ponds which hold millions of gallons of toxic coal ash.  DENR’s comments were made in response to the February 2014 coal ash spill that dumped up to 35,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

“The ruling leaves no doubt, Duke Energy is past due on its obligation to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination, its unlined coal ash pits, and the State has both the authority and a duty to require action now,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the conservation groups in the case.  “This ruling enforces a common-sense requirement in existing law - before you can clean up contaminated groundwater, you first must stop the source of the contamination- in this case, Duke’s unlined coal ash pits.”

Read the court’s full order here.

 

Hog industryCoal ash isn’t the only pollutant wreaking havoc in North Carolina’s waterways these days; the enormous problems posed by industrial hog production are back in the news. As noted in this space last week, there’s a stomach-turning crisis underway as you read this in involving a porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus outbreak in North Carolina.

This morning’s Fayetteville Observer weighs in on the subject with an editorial bearing the marvelously understated headline “Our view: Dead pigs, water may be an unhealthy mix.” As the editorial notes (after describing in grim detail what’s been going on) the recent coal ash disaster caused by lax regulation offers little hope that regulators are taking all necessary steps: Read More