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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.

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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.

Read More

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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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