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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

 

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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

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There’s been some news of interest recently about Chesapeake Energy, one of the natural-gas companies behind the push for North Carolina to lift its ban on fracking, the controversial drilling method for natural gas.

The company is facing charges of conspiring to fix land prices, and of shorting landowners royalty payments in order to keep the company afloat.

FrackingAs the Carolina Mercury pointed out last week, Chesapeake Energy was one of two energy companies indicted in Michigan this month on criminal charges of conspiring to keep property prices low in an area over a shale belt.

(The criminal charges and an ongoing federal anti-trust investigation stemmed from reporting by Reuters. Click here to read more.)

Here in North Carolina, Chesapeake Energy took legislators on fact-finding trips to Pennsylvania in 2011, as the lawmakers were considering a bill that eventually lifted the ban on fracking.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing involves setting of explosions deep into wells in the ground and then blasting with water and chemicals in order to extract natural gas caught in shale layers. There’s particular interest in bringing fracking to the Sandhills area of the state where a large underground shale belt straddles Lee and Chatham counties. (Scroll below or click here to see a map of shale deposits.)

The state’s Energy and Mining Commission is working to put rules in place before drilling can begin in 2015.  Many of the chemicals used in fracking have had links to cancer and other health problems, and groundwater contamination has been reported in other areas of the nation.

Chesapeake Energy has also run into financial problems because of the drops in natural gas pricing,  and apparently edged itself away from the brink of financial collapse in the last few years by cutting back on the royalties paid to landowners, according to a new report out today.

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The latest numbers from Public Policy Polling indicate only 30% of voters approve of the way Governor Pat McCrory has handled North Carolina’s coal ash problems, compared to 44% who disapprove.

Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, says North Carolinians should be frustrated by the mixed messages and slow response from the McCrory administration in addressing the Dan River disaster and the safe storage of toxic ash at 14 other coal-fired power plants across North Carolina.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said that he wants Duke Energy to move its ash ponds away from drinking-water sources. But state environmental Sec. John Skvarla suggested last month that requiring Duke to move its coal ash away from North Carolina’s waterways might actually do more harm than good.

“Until the governor’s own appointee begins to carry out the words that the governor has been speaking,  I think all of our citizens have to question whether the governor really means what he’s saying,” said Holleman this week in an interview with NC Policy Watch.

Just this week, the governor avoided questions about whether his former employer should pay for the clean-up, saying he wants to “keep the politics out” of that decision.

Seventy-nine percent of the respondents to the PPP poll believe Duke Energy should bear the cost of cleaning-up the coal ash ponds, not taxpayers and not its customers.

Holleman joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss what Duke Energy and the McCrory administration need to do about the Dan River coal ash spill. For a preview of  that radio interview, click below.

Duke Energy faces a March 15th deadline to present its response to the governor, laying out the options and costs for cleaning up the Dan.
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SkvarlaToothbrushDENR Secretary John Skvarla grimaced his way through a February 19th press briefing on the Dan River coal ash spill. Only as he walked smartly away from a clamoring press corps, which was chagrined at the briefing’s premature cessation, did he crack a smile, followed by a smirking Tom Reeder, his Water Quality Man Friday. They had promised a press conference that would last as long as there were questions to be asked, but Michael Biesecker of the Associated Press had apparently asked one too many.

A disconsolate Skvarla famously urged his besieged staff to “smile, be happy, have fun and enjoy the process – because if we can’t do that we’re all doing the wrong thing”. He even urged them by email to include it as a measurable goal in their Employee Performance Plans. By any public measure Skvarla is failing miserably in this category, though to be fair he and other political appointees may sit around privately laughing at the sorry state of North Carolina’s eroding environmental protections.
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