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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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An editorial in Sunday’s edition of the Fayetteville Observer says that now is no time for the state of North Carolina to ease the pressure on Duke Energy:

“The Southern Environmental Law Center sued in 2012 over the failure of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources under Perdue’s watch to regulate Duke’s coal-ash dumps effectively. The group says the situation changed under McCrory-appointed DENR chief John Skvarla – it got worse.

A judge’s ruling Thursday condemned Duke’s behavior and DENR’s haplessness.

Duke has resisted moving the coal ash to safer storage, while more abuses have come to light. DENR cited Duke last week for operating without permits. Duke also denied using additional corrugated pipe, the failure of which caused the Dan River spill. Investigators have since found repeated use of the material.

Amid this mess, Skvarla contradicted McCrory by questioning a mandated cleanup. Skvarla worried the state might get tied up in years of litigation. He’s giving McCrory cause to bring in someone serious about environmental protection to run DENR….

Duke Energy: poisoner of water and soil, enemy of public health and deceitful band of cheaters. Read More

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Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled today that Duke Energy must take immediate action to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination that are currently violating water quality standards at all 14 of its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, the ruling comes in the wake of recent claims by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that it lacks the legal authority to require cleanup of the ash ponds which hold millions of gallons of toxic coal ash.  DENR’s comments were made in response to the February 2014 coal ash spill that dumped up to 35,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

“The ruling leaves no doubt, Duke Energy is past due on its obligation to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination, its unlined coal ash pits, and the State has both the authority and a duty to require action now,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the conservation groups in the case.  “This ruling enforces a common-sense requirement in existing law – before you can clean up contaminated groundwater, you first must stop the source of the contamination- in this case, Duke’s unlined coal ash pits.”

Read the court’s full order here.

 

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The state Court of Appeals has upheld the Utilities Commission’s approval of the Duke – Progress Energy merger in 2012, per an opinion released this morning.

Writing for the court, Judge Douglas McCullough said:

Where it is evident that the Commission considered the potential costs and risks of the merger and weighed them against the anticipated benefits, and where there is substantial evidence supporting the Commission’s findings and conclusions, we will not second guess the Commission’s determination that the merger is justified by the public convenience and necessity. Thus, we affirm the Commission’s approval of the merger in the merger order.

Policy Watch will have more on the decision later this morning.