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The NC General Assembly reconvenes for the 2014 short session today with budget adjustments, teacher pay, and coal ash disposal topping the legislators’ to-do list.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue told reporters Tuesday as lawmakers discuss a plan for coal ash disposal, it’s also time for lawmakers to revisit the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and whether the agency has the sufficient  personnel and authority to address the current disposal crisis.

“Given the push over the last couple years, DENR is shorthanded to handle some of these crises. So part of a solution in this session as we come up with solutions to the coal ash  crisis, is to re-examine what the regulatory authority ought to look like and how many people ought to be doing it. And it’s not rocket science,” said Sen. Blue on Tuesday.

Governor McCrory will be pushing his own coal ash plan this session, a plan that has irked some key legislators within his own party.

Earlier this week Duke Energy began the process of cleaning up some of the 39,000 tons of coal ash that spilled into the Dan River back in February.

For more from Tuesday’s press conference, click below:

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Here’s a story that’s unfortunately gotten very little, if any, play in the North Carolina mainstream news media. It comes, interestingly enough, from national NBC News:

“How politics buries science in landslide mapping

The six geologists were just starting their work, climbing the mountains of Western North Carolina to map the debris left behind by landslides over millions of years, when the political footing gave way beneath them. Opposition had been building from real estate agents, from home builders planning subdivisions, and then from politicians. When all that energy was released, the science was crushed flat.

The new Republican leadership in the legislature cut off all funding for the state’s landslide mapping project in 2011, and the five geologists were laid off. They had mapped just four of 19 counties. Only one geologist kept a state job, but he is not allowed to do any landslide mapping. Another is helping a mining company search for gold. Two are in private practice. The fifth is checking the work of road paving crews. And the sixth moved to Virginia, mapping landslides until the temporary funding for that project ran out.

Against the backdrop of the March 22 mudslide in Washington state, which killed 33 people and left 12 still missing as of Monday, geologists say the story of the team in North Carolina illustrates how America has never put forth a serious effort to learn from the earth’s past. Geology experts say science is often a casualty of land politics, as the nation fails to protect others who are unaware they are at risk from deadly landslides….”

Read the rest of this excellent and very disturbing story by clicking here.

DENR Secretary John Skvarla

DENR Secretary John Skvarla

With the expanding coal ash crisis and the bumbling response of North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources,  the environment is much on people’s minds these days. This morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record (entitled “Now you see it…”) highlights yet another areas in which DENR is affirmatively abetting pollution and undermining public health and well-being — climate change. The editorial even manages to work in a quote from comedian Stephen Colbert in its skewering of DENR and its embattled boss John Skvarla:

“Once described as a “fierce urgency” and a major priority, the subject of climate change is slowly disappearing from state environmental agency websites.

Now you see them, now you don’t, scrubbed away. Forever. Without a trace.

As WRAL.com has reported, the Division of Air Quality website once prominently displayed climate change information on its front page as recently as two months ago. Today it features none.

That division’s parent agency, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, began deleting climate change references even earlier, in 2013. Once a key component of the agency’s strategic plan, climate change does not even merit “Important Issues” status on the today’s DENR website.

We probably should have seen this coming….”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Here’s the latest in the civil court case involving Duke Energy and the clean-up of coal-ash ponds. Click here for background on the case.

Wake Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway denied a request Thursday from the utility company to delay a previous order to start immediately dealing with contamination from coal-ash ponds Duke maintains around the state.

Duke had asked that the clean-up be delayed while it appealed Ridgeway’s decision earlier this month to order Duke to take immediate action to stop contamination by coal-ash ponds. Today’s order means that Duke must be forward with plans to clean up the ponds.

Below are copies of Ridgeway’s order, as well a motion from environmental groups asking that the stay be denied.

 

Duke Stay Coal Ash by NC Policy Watch

 

 

Enviro Objection Stay by NC Policy Watch

 

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