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Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Sometimes the transparency of fossil fuel industry apologists and their hired helpers who masquerade as government regulators is just so outrageous as to be Saturday Night Live skit-worthy. Such is the case with the latest claims by a McCrory administration official in the eviscerated Department of Environmental Quality that he’s deeply concerned about the potential environmental impact of decommissioned solar panels.

As WRAL.com reported this morning, DEQ Deputy Secretary Tom Reeder — who spends most of his time fighting efforts to control carbon pollution and promoting offshore oil and gas drilling — is now in a tizzy about solar:

‘There are 250 million pounds of these photovoltaic cells in North Carolina,’ Reeder told the [Environmental Review] commission, urging lawmakers to consider adding a bond requirement to solar farms for eventual decommissioning, as he says California and the federal Bureau of Land Management do.

‘They do contain toxic materials,’ he warned. ‘There’s no market for recycling these things.'”

Uh, excuse us Tom, but while the issue of properly decommissioning 250 million pounds of solar panels two decades from now certainly is an issue worth discussing and planning for, the matter of what to do with 264 billion pounds of coal ash right now (not to mention the horrific impacts of climate change that continue to mount as the result our unfettered use of fossil fuels) would seem just a trifle more important. How about you get to work on those matters?

The bottom line: Reeder’s supposed concerns about the fate of solar panels register about as high on the common sense and sincerity meters as a 1980’s tobacco boss railing about the dangers of too much bubble gum chewing by ex-smokers. Fortunately, as a bevy of Facebook commenters recently made plain in response to DEQ’s latest propagandizing against the Clean Power Plan, a growing number of North Carolinians are seeing through the department’s disingenuous smokescreens.

Commentary

Coal ashThe Greensboro News & Record has a good editorial this morning in which it lauds the state Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the General Assembly’s overreach in its turf battle with the Governor over control of the state coal ash commission.

But the editorial concludes with this warning to the Guv:

“It’s the governor’s responsibility. Now he’s got to prove that legislators of his own party were wrong to distrust him with this important task.”

News

1434470665-nc-handAnd in perhaps this week’s most bizarre news:

The Wilmington Star-News reported Sunday that school officials in Brunswick County, a rural county south of Wilmington, will be spending nearly a half-million dollars to clean up a middle school playing field that sits atop coal ash.

In case you’ve been living under a rock in the last two years, coal ash is an energy plant byproduct that contains potentially toxic heavy metals. Duke Energy, by law, will be required to dispose of an estimated 100 million tons of the sludge in North Carolina over the next 15 years.

School leaders reportedly used coal ash as filler and to elevate the playing field in 1992, believing it would not cause any problems. However, soil testing registered high levels of “dangerous metals,” WWAY-TV in Wilmington reported last September.

Since then, students have been apparently barred from using the field.

Read More

Commentary

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

Be sure to check out this morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer on the latest controversy swirling around Gov. Pat McCrory and his former long-time employer, Duke Energy. The headline and subtitles do a good job of summarizing the content:

“Gov. McCrory numb to the appearance of hosting Duke Energy
-Is Gov. Pat McCrory just oblivious?
-Meeting with Duke officials
-Appearances do matter”

As WRAL reported earlier this week, McCrory held a private, closed door meeting with his former employer at the very moment that his administration was engaged in important law enforcement activities targeting the the energy giant. The N&O editorial rightfully blasts McCrory for not recognizing the obvious conflicts inherent in such a meeting:

“The meeting demonstrates an amazing lack of awareness, as at the time Duke was in the middle of dealing with some of the fallout from a coal ash spill in the Dan River. The company’s saga with the spill included an agreement to pay a federal fine of $102 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and then a state environmental official wanted to impose a $50 million fine, according to records. The state ended up levying a $25 million fine for groundwater contamination, reduced in September to $7 million.

At dinner in the mansion were Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, other top Duke officials and the governor’s legal counsel, among others. McCrory worked for Duke for 29 years.

The governor should understand that meetings such as this one just look bad, coming as a company with which the governor had a long-term connection (providing him a handsome livelihood) is in the midst of controversy with different levels of government. If the governor isn’t astute about such appearances, those around him should be.”

The problem (as McCrory has made clear repeatedly over the last three years) is that he does not appear to “get” basic concepts like the difference between being Governor of a state and Mayor of a city. As the editorial puts it: “Sometimes, Gov. Pat McCrory seems to think he’s still the mayor of Charlotte….”

For better or worse, however, McCrory is the Governor and desperately needs to learn how to behave like one — ideally before his term is up.