Archives

Commentary

Coal ash clean upThere have been several noteworthy reactions to Governor Pat McCrory’s strange decision to simply let the General Assembly’s coal ash legislation become law without his signature last week. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger came this close to accusing the Governor of – yikes! – improper bias toward his longtime employer when he said the following in a statement reported this morning by the Greensboro News & Record:

“The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”

Veteran environmental advocate and Winston-Salem city councilman Dan Besse got it just about right, however, when he authored the following for the weekly newsletter of N.C. League of Conservation Voters this morning: Read More

Commentary

McC709It was just a few years ago that opponents of then-Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama were howling at the notion that he had voted “present” on multiple occasions while a state legislator in Illinois (something that’s permitted for lawmakers in the Land of Lincoln but not  in most states — North Carolina included).

The gist of the not-unfounded criticism at the time was that a “present” vote was and is a pretty gutless way out of taking a stance on sticky issues. If one goes to all the trouble of running for office and serving as an elected representative of the people, went/goes the reasoning, the least a lawmaker can do is to have the courage to make a decision when presented with a choice of whether something will be made law or not.

Such logic would seem to apply with even more force to a governor when it comes to approving or not approving a bill sent to him or her by a legislature. After all, it’s not like he or she is just one of a couple of hundred legislators whose vote may or may not even really matter. The constitution specifies that the decision to sign or veto a bill is his or hers alone. (It should probably also be noted that when a U.S. president fails to sign a bill while Congress is out of session, the effect is to veto the bill — the process is known as a “pocket veto.”)

This brings us, of course, to yesterday’s decision by Governor Pat McCrory to let the controversial — many would say “thoroughly inadequate” — coal ash “clean up” bill become law by simply not acting on it. Read More

Uncategorized

One of the most knowledgeable environmental advocacy groups working on North Carolina’s coal ash dilemma — the state chapter of the Sierra Club — had mixed reviews for the new legislation approved by lawmakers yesterday:

NC Sierra Club Response to Final Passage of S 729, Coal Ash Management Act

The legislature today gave final approval to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that for the first time regulates coal ash like other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash.

Following the Dan River coal ash spill, revelations that coal ash pollution has contaminated rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water resulted in an unprecedented public demand for action. Duke Energy produces an estimated 1.2 million tons of coal ash a year in North Carolina. Currently, all coal ash sites have groundwater contamination and nearly all are releasing contaminants into rivers, lakes or reservoirs.

The bill will require Duke Energy to phase out wet ash handling. Duke’s outdated method of disposing of coal ash in ponds next to waterways has led to water contamination across the state. With the passage of this bill, for the first time all coal ash will be covered by North Carolina’s solid waste laws. Further, when coal ash is used as fill to build up land for large construction projects, measures like groundwater monitoring and liners will be required.

Unfortunately, final changes to the conference report intended to protect against ongoing groundwater pollution at ten sites do not go far enough to address a major issue that must be resolved to protect NC residents and communities.

Read More

Uncategorized

Duke EnergyAs the General Assembly debates a coal ash bill that many say lets Duke Energy off the hook, the Supreme Court today approved a rate hike for Duke Energy customers.

Justice Barbara Jackson wrote the opinion for the unanimous court, holding this:

In this case we consider whether the order of the North Carolina Utilities Commission authorizing a 10.2% return on equity for Duke Energy Progress contained sufficient findings of fact to demonstrate that it was supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence in view of the entire record. Because we conclude that the Commission made sufficient findings of fact regarding the impact of changing economic conditions upon customers, we affirm.

Read the court’s full opinion here.

Uncategorized

Coal ashPeople who know the score are not displaying a lot of enthusiasm about the coal ash bill that will be run through he House Rules Committee this morning. As the website Coal Ash Chronicles noted yesterday:

“[C]losing” a coal ash pond and “cleaning up” a coal ash pond or spill … those are totally different things. The first option leaves coal ash where it is alongside the state’s waterways — which flow into your house and businesses — and the second moves the coal ash away from the water to either be landfilled or repurposed.”

The experts at the Southern Environmental Law Center issued this statement early last evening on behalf of an array of concerned environmental advocates:

S729 Fails to Protect People from Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The coal ash bill issued by a conference committee of the N.C. General Assembly today fails to require cleanup of 10 coal ash sites across North Carolina by allowing Duke Energy to leave its polluting coal ash in unlined, leaking pits at 10 of 14 sites. The bill leaves at risk people in nearby and downstream communities throughout North Carolina and other states. The bill seeks to weaken existing law and protect Duke Energy from taking responsibility for its coal ash waste.

Allowing coal ash to be left in unlined, leaking pits across North Carolina with documented groundwater contamination at each site is not a cleanup plan nor does it protect the people of North Carolina. Many sites across the country where coal ash has been covered up or “capped” in place continue to experience high levels of toxic pollution. Covering up coal ash and calling sites “closed” does not stop or clean up pollution. Read More