Commentary

Rep. Pricey Harrison: Coal ash is poisoning our democracy as well as our people

Pricey HarrisonIn case you missed it, North Carolina State Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County has a great new essay up on the Huffington Post about the connections between North Carolina’s frightening coal ash mess and the state’s polluted, pay-to-play political culture.

This from “The Coal Ash Money Train — North Carolina’s Poisoned Democracy”:

“Normally, citizens could seek a remedy in the courts when state governments do not adequately regulate coal ash. Yet in North Carolina, that’s become increasingly difficult given the pay-to-play system that has replaced the innovative public financing program for judicial candidates – a program that Governor Pat McCrory eliminated in his first few months in office. Without public financing, judicial candidates must turn to deep-pocketed donors for the money needed to mount a successful campaign. Those private donors in turn may see favorable decisions in court.

We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Governor McCrory–a Duke executive for 28 years–has conveniently failed to enforce environmental regulations and is under federal investigation for doing so. Corporate polluters have spent big to elect legislators in North Carolina. We can expect that, when it comes to coal ash, Gov. McCrory will yield to his corporate ties and neglect to defend the health of North Carolinians, especially the poorest among us.

The Charlotte Observer recently editorialized on the state’s distorted regulatory focus, writing that the disaster in Flint is “a cautionary tale for public officials and the citizens they serve” and that it should “resonate in states like North Carolina, where the regulatory focus has too often shifted away from protecting residents to accommodating business and industry.” The state agencies that are supposed to protect our water have too often focused on satisfying industry.

It’s clear that when corporate dollars pervade the government systems built to protect the public, we can no longer count on government to do its job and look after its most vulnerable communities.”

Click here to read the entire post.

Commentary

YCMTSU: State “solves” drinking water problem around coal ash sites by weakening the rules

From the good folks at ACTAgainstCoalAsh.org

Residents Across North Carolina Outraged by State’s Decision to Rescind Do-Not-Drink Orders:
ACT Against Coal Ash Demands Solutions for Contaminated Wells at DEQ Public Hearings

Across North Carolina, Duke Energy’s neighbors, many of whom have been living on bottled water for over 10 months, as well as Lee County residents are outraged by the state’s decision to rescind 235 do not drink orders. The flip-flop from state regulators came just two days before another round of DEQ’s public hearings on coal ash basin closure, adding to residents’ mistrust of Governor McCrory and the staff he appointed to run DEQ and DHHS.

Tonight, the Down East Coal Ash Coalition plans to make a big showing at DEQ’s public hearing for Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee plant in Goldsboro, N.C. Local resident, Johnnie Gurley is skeptical that DEQ will prioritize the public’s interest over Duke Energy’s profits. “First, a fine of $25 million for violations of the law at one site reduced to $7 million for all of them,” explains Gurley, “Then, just as we found out about a secret dinner between the Governor, DEQ leadership and Duke Energy Executives, coal ash sites that were classified as ‘’high priority” are now “low”, or “low-intermediate”. Now, suddenly, water we were told not to drink because it was contaminated is safe to drink. Either God worked a miracle or Governor McCrory is in Duke Energy’s pocket.” Read more

Commentary, News

The coal ash mess: Three “must reads” plus a powerful video

Coal ash clean upSeveral important items of note in the coal ash world this morning:

#1 – The Wilmington Star News reports that Duke Energy has begun moving with what one might describe as “all deliberate speed” (emphasis on deliberate) to remove more than seven million tons of coal ash from just one of its numerous dumps across the state — this one in New Hanover County. In the four-plus months since the removal commenced, 82,000 tons have been moved or roughly 1% of all that needs to come out. It is a testament to the massive nature of the problem and the absurd inaction by Duke and state regulators that things are this bad.

#2 -The Fayetteville Observer reports that the city of Sanford is treating coal ash liquid (“leachate”) in its wastewater treatment plant and then discharging it (along, potentially, with nasty heavy metals) into the Deep River — something that, understandably, worries some environmental advocates.

#3 – Meanwhile, Gov. Pat “Standing in the bathroom door” McCrory continues to mostly ignore the problem. This new and powerful video from the good folks at Progress NC features a woman who lives near a coal ash dump and must now live on bottled water — apparently in perpetuity.  Not surprisingly, the Guv hasn’t responded to her requests for a meeting.

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#4 – Finally, the League of Conservation Voters reports that NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hearings on the handling of coal ash from Duke Energy’s multiple ash pits around the state begin tonight at simultaneous events in Asheville, Dallas (Gaston County), Eden (Rockingham County), and Wilmington. This is from the LCV’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

Each of the hearings begins at 6:00pm. Concerned members of the public are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should show up early in order to sign up.

Citizen conservation groups are working to turn out concerned citizens at all the hearings, and are planning a news conference at 5:30pm at the Gaston County hearing site in the town of Dallas. Members of the concerned public are invited to appear for the advance news event as well. The Dallas hearing will particularly address the Riverbend Steam Station, and will be held in the Gaston College Myers Center Auditorium (201 Highway U.S. 321 South, Dallas, NC 28034).

The planned message from citizen conservationists will emphasize that all of Duke’s unlined, leaking coal ash sites across North Carolina are high risk and should be cleaned up by moving the toxic coal ash to dry, lined storage away from rivers and groundwater. The communities and people of our state deserve to have clean water, protected from the threat of toxic coal ash pollution.

None of the sites are in fact “low risk” and they cannot safely be capped and left in place to continuing seeping into our water supplies. More than 200 seeps from Duke’s coal ash pits collectively send about three million gallons a day into our waters. It is past time for DEQ to order swift cleanup of these continuing pollution sources.

The other three March 1 sites are

  • Asheville: AB Technical Community College Ferguson Auditorium, 340 Victoria Road, Asheville NC 28801
  • Eden: Eden Town Hall, 308 East Stadium Drive, Eden NC 27288
  • Wilmington: Cape Fear Community College, room N-202, 411 N. Front Street, Wilmington NC 28401.

Eleven additional hearings will follow in future weeks, between March 10 and March 29.

Commentary

Duke’s $2.8 billion in profits would clean up a lot of coal ash

News item from today’s Charlotte Observer:

“Duke Energy reported 2015 earnings Thursday of $2.8 billion on $23.5 billion in revenue, well up from the previous year but below analysts’ expectations.

The year’s net income was compared to about $1.9 billion in profit and $23.9 billion in revenue in 2014. Duke reported earning $4.05 a share compared to $2.66 in 2014.

Fourth-quarter earnings of $477 million compared to the $97 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. Mild December weather became a drag on earnings for the quarter.”

All of which leads to two obvious truths:

  1. You could clean up a heck of a lot of coal ash with that money. Heck, one could even let Duke keep a billion in profits and still make enormous headway in ending the outrageous poisoning of North Carolina’s water and the people who drink it.
  2. The notion that Duke is going to alter its borderline criminal behavior because the administration headed by its former longtime employee has slapped its hands with some comparatively paltry fines of a few million dollars (i.e. approximately one or two day’s profits) is just plain laughable.
Commentary

Report, editorial: Allowing NC schools to go solar would be a win-win

The lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record hits a home run this morning by highlighting a powerful new report out of N.C. State on the enormous potential benefits of equipping North Carolina schools with solar panels.

“A pair of new reports from renewable-energy experts propose a bright idea for enterprising school districts in North Carolina: solar arrays on public school rooftops and in school parking lots.

Such an arrangement could save millions, they say, and, in time, even generate revenue for cash-strapped schools.

It’s as brilliant a notion as a noon-day sun in August. And it’s being pushed by an advocacy group called Repower Our Schools in Durham, whose schools spend $5.7 million a year on electricity, and in Charlotte, whose public schools’ electric bill totals about $18 million a year.

By comparison, Guilford County Schools paid $12.3 million for electricity in 2014-15.”

And this is from the summary to the reports themselves:

“Two reports by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) released February 3rd found that Charlotte­-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) and Durham Public Schools (DPS) can meet 100 percent of their electricity needs and save millions over the next 25 years by installing solar panels to power their schools. With solar-friendly updates to solar policies in the state, including the allowance of third party energy sales and changes to net metering policy, CMS and DPS could produce renewable electricity for 25 years and reduce their total electricity cost by 11 percent.”

Seems line a no-brainer, right? Well it clearly is, but unfortunately, when it comes to a shortage of brains in the  North Carolina energy policy world, you can probably already guess who the problem children are. That’s right, it’s the state’s conservative, Koch Brother-loving political leaders and the fun people at Pat McCrory’s old employer, Duke Energy.

Until we get McCrory, the General Assembly, Duke and the denizens of the Flat Earth Society “think tanks” to back down from their destructive obstruction of all things renewable and sustainable, this splendid idea will likely be left moldering on the shelf somewhere.