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dukelogoMcCrory_budget305-aIn case you missed it, reporter Mark Binker at WRAL.com has an important new story in the ongoing saga of Duke Energy, its troubling environmental record and the relationship it maintains with its former employee, Gov. Pat McCrory.

“Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has made much of its efforts over the past year to “hold Duke Energy accountable” for the company’s handling of coal ash pollution.

But on June 1, while in the midst of pressing legal action against and issuing news releases critical of the nation’s largest utility, top state officials met for a private dinner at the Executive Mansion with Duke executives, according to calendar entries and other records reviewed by WRAL News.

McCrory, his top environmental regulator, his chief of staff and his general counsel attended, as did Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good, the company’s general counsel and the president of the company’s North Carolina operations.

Beyond general statements that environmental policy and job creation were topics of the meeting, neither state officials nor a spokeswoman for Duke have been willing to provide details of the discussion. The conversation came close on the heels of the state fining the company for pollution violations, during legal wrangling over coal ash pollution and while pending legislation on renewable energy and the state’s response to federal clean power rules was debated at the General Assembly.”

The detailed story goes on to explain why this meeting was extremely unusual, how it took place at a critical juncture in the aftermath of the giant 2014 coal ash spill and while state enforcement actions were pending, that no environmental groups ever are granted such access and how neither Duke nor the McCrory administration is willing to disclose what was discussed.

All in all, it’s a very disturbing development and the kind of story that appears to confirm a lot of our worst fears about the current administration. Stay tuned, it’s certain not be the end of the matter. Click here to read the entire story.

Commentary

Here’s an event that will be worth your time to check out tomorrow (Thursday) evening:

The Health of North Carolina’s Democracy
Threats to Voting Rights & Impartial Courts

Brought to you by North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, Democracy North Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Legal Progress, a project of The Center for American Progress

Thursday, October 29th 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh
3313 Wade Avenue – Raleigh, NC 27607

Join us for a screening of the mini-documentary

“Dirty Water, Dirty Money: Coal Ash and the Attack on North Carolina’s Courts”
on the real impact of special interest money on North Carolina’s judiciary.

Following the screening, North Carolina elected officials and policymakers will participate in a panel discussion on how voting rights, money in politics, and fair courts impact the health of North Carolina’s democracy. Featuring:

  • Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-57, Greensboro)
  • Anita Earls – Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Chris Kromm – Executive Director, Institute for Southern Studies

Please don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about making North Carolina’s democracy work for everyone – not just the wealthy and well-connected!

Please RSVP by clicking here.
For more information, contact LHarmon@americanprogress.org or (202) 495-3698

News

Coal ash clean upIn a decision released late yesterday, U.S. District Judge Loretta C. Biggs denied Duke Energy’s request for a dismissal of the case filed by the Yadkin Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance, seeking coal ash cleanup at the company’s Buck plant on the Yadkin River.

“The Court is unable to find that DENR was trying diligently or that its state enforcement action was calculated, in good faith, to require compliance with the [Clean Water] Act,” Biggs wrote in her decision.

“Accordingly, DENR’s state enforcement action does not bar the Riverkeepers from pursuing their Seep Claim and Hydrological Connection Claim in this citizen suit.”

Biggs added that agreements between DENR (now DEQ) and Duke Energy to stop investigation and enforcement in the pending state action evidenced a lack of due diligence on the part of the agency.

“DENR’s prosecution does not inspire confidence that its state court action will move expeditiously to a final resolution,” she wrote.

The judge also refused to stay the case, finding that further delay “has the potential to substantially harm the environment and the individuals who live near the Buck plant and draw their daily supply of water from allegedly contaminated wells.”

Instead, the groups will be able to proceed with all claims, including those related to unlawful coal ash seepage, prohibited leaks into the groundwater and river, and dam safety violations.

“This court ruling upholds citizens’ right to enforce the law against polluters like Duke Energy to protect clean water when DENR/DEQ fails to do so,” Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center representing the Riverkeepers, said in a statement.  “The court found that DENR/DEQ had not been diligently pursuing enforcement against Duke Energy’s still leaking coal ash. Instead, DENR/DEQ has been diligently protecting Duke Energy.”

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News

Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in North CarolinaIn just a little over a year, from lawsuit to settlement in 2012, citizen and conservation groups in South Carolina pushed South Carolina Electric & Gas to begin cleaning up coal ash contamination at its sites there.

State environmental regulators stayed out and the utility stepped up, coming up with a plan to remove the ash from lagoons and either re-use it if possible or move it to lined storage elsewhere.

Other utilities there — including Duke Energy — likewise agreed later to do the same and have thus far removed more than a million tons of ash.

Compare that to what’s happened here since 2012. In October of that year, environmental groups asked the  state’s Environmental Management Commission for a ruling on how groundwater contaminations rules applied to coal ash sites here, and prepared for lawsuits against the company for contamination at its Asheville and Riverbend plants.

But unlike what happened in South Carolina, the state here stepped in at the last minute and the utility pushed back. Now, three years and a catastrophic coal ash spill later, those groups are still battling the state and Duke Energy over coal ash management. Instead of clean up, what they’ve gotten is delay, denial and diminution of the company’s obligations.

The September settlement between Duke Energy and the newly-rebranded Department of Environmental Quality, allowing Duke to pay a $7 million fine for groundwater pollution at all 14 of its coal ash sites here, is just the latest chapter in that saga.

That fine is a far cry from the $25 million DEQ had previously imposed on Duke for violations just at the Sutton Steam Plant near Wilmington. Duke subsequently appealed that fine, but then reached a global settlement with the state settling all claims and cases involving all its coal ash plants here.

The agreement also requires no cleanup commitments from Duke beyond what the company has already agreed to do, which involves removal of the ash at only a few plants.

Yesterday the groups filed a lawsuit asking the court to set aside that settlement.

“This latest sweetheart settlement shows what happens when Duke Energy and state bureaucrats get in a room together without public scrutiny,” said Frank Holleman, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center representing the groups.

“Citizen action has produced cleanup commitments at seven dangerous, polluting coal ash sites in North Carolina so far, in spite of the state and Duke trying for years to block citizens from protecting our rivers, lakes, and drinking water. That’s why we are asking the court to ensure those efforts can continue.”

Read the new complaint here.

News

DENRpicIn papers filed yesterday, the state through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources asked the court hearing the enforcement actions against Duke Energy to stay the proceedings with respect to ten of Duke’s 14 coal ash plants, saying that a delay would allow the department and Duke Energy to classify and prioritize the ten sites as required under the new Coal Ash Management Act.

The four plants not included in the request are the Asheville Steam Electric Generation Plant, Riverbend Steam Station, Dan River Combined Cycle Steam Station and L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant — which the General Assembly already classified as high-risk and are subject to motions for judgement pending in court.

DENR contends that a stay would allow members of the public to participate in the assessment of the ten plants, touting provisions of the Act.

But the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents advocacy groups that had early on pushed the state to take action and have been permitted to intervene in the enforcement actions, called the motion just another delay tactic, illustrating how DENR continues to work side-by-side with Duke Energy as opposed to aggressively enforcing state regulations.

According to Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Center, DENR has done nothing to pursue the enforcement cases and never asked the Court to order a cleanup of any site.

“We learned this month that DENR has even agreed with Duke Energy that it will not seek any information from Duke Energy through the enforcement proceedings,” Holleman said in a statement.

“Now, DENR is trying to stop the citizens groups from obtaining from DENR and Duke Energy information to enforce the law. This attempt to stop the enforcement of the law follows DENR’s incomprehensible attempt to stop the Court from ordering the cleanup of three dangerous and polluting coal ash sites, even though Duke Energy agrees they should be cleaned up. DENR has become a bureaucracy that puts its bureaucratic turf issues ahead of its mission to protect North Carolina’s communities and clean water.”