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Anti-frackWhen state lawmakers passed a law to allow the introduction of fracking into North Carolina a couple of years ago, proponents promised the public that the state would have the strongest possible environmental protection rules. Today, the state House took one of what will undoubtedly be a repeated series of steps to walk away from that assurance.

Despite strong objections from environmental advocates, lawmakers hurriedly approved a bill that repeals the current law which requires the adoption of state air quality rules by the agency charged with overseeing fracking — the state Mining and Energy Commission. In other words, rather than adopting North Carolina-specific air quality rules for fracking operations (something on which the Commission was already working), the Commission will now be free to take a pass and simply defer to the rudimentary and inadequate federal rules.

Today’s vote occurred in spite of the strong objections of environmental experts like Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, who explained that the federal rules basically exempt small “wildcat” operations — i.e. the very (and only) kind of gas exploration outfits that North Carolina is likely to attract given its unproven natural gas reserves. While federal rules do a better job of governing larger operations of the kind run by big energy firms, those companies aren’t likely to come to North Carolina anytime soon.

The bottom line: North Carolina took another step toward toward bringing fracking to the state today and it did so in such a way that increases the likelihood that citizens and our natural environment will be exposed to dangerous air pollutants.

 

 

Commentary

The Fayetteville Observer has a fine editorial this morning taking the McCrory administration to task for the latest lame plan to deal with coal ash pollution and the ongoing discharges into our drinking water supplies. As the paper notes, the plan features a loophole the size of a coal fired power plant: it has no deadlines for compliance.

“Duke Energy was caught last year leaking excessive wastewater from its coal-ash ponds into soil and waterways. Duke is negotiating a federal settlement to pay resulting penalties. But the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has found a way to ensure that the company doesn’t violate the law that way again: New permits will make future discharges legal….

…The logic behind DENR’s approach now is to give Duke time to fix these problems. Thinking the company could stop all leaks overnight would be unreasonable. If Duke works toward long-term solutions, DENR can offer permits letting the status quo remain legal temporarily without incurring additional penalties….

Unfortunately, there’s an element missing from DENR’s permitting plan that creates a massive loophole for continued pollution: There’s no timetable for Duke to make progress. That puts DENR’s policy back into the absurd category.

What good is a state agency that just writes permits allowing major polluters to continue doing more of the same indefinitely? Including a wish, even a vague expectation, that Duke will one day mend its ways doesn’t cut it. For Duke’s part, the company has expressed its intent to work toward rapid closure of the coal-ash ponds. If so, that’s great. But it won’t be due to any tough stance from DENR.

As the Southern Environmental Law Center, which sued Duke over coal-ash storage, has noted, DENR’s permit plan includes no interim steps that Duke must take to stay on track. The agency needs to rethink its handling of these permits, and work toward a policy with more teeth for working with Duke and other polluters in the future.”

Of course, what the Observer fails to note is that is that such loopholes are no accident; they are what you get when a once proud environmental protection agency is gradually hollowed out and transformed pursuant to the demands and directives of the state’s biggest corporate polluters.

Commentary

In case you missed it, the good folks at NC WARN are out with a new issue brief that takes Duke Energy to task for its latest efforts to derail the widespread deployment of solar power. As the release that accompanied the brief notes:

“The Duke claim…is that, as more customers put solar panels on rooftops, other customers are left to pay more than “their share” for Duke Energy’s large, expensive power plants.

But only because Duke is a protected monopoly can it try to force captive customers to pay a higher price for a product – polluting power – that others choose to replace with solar. It is grossly unfair to force customers, instead of corporate stockholders, to pay for poor decisions to build giant, expensive power plants as the national market swings toward cheaper, safer energy generated right at the home and workplace….

Every new rooftop solar system helps all customers by reducing Duke Energy’s case to keep building expensive power plants we don’t need and continually raising rates. Solar power provides energy during times of high demand – the hottest hours of the day – eliminating Duke’s argument for building more plants.

If Duke Energy cared about low-income customers, Read More

Commentary

Pat McCrory 4It should probably come as no surprise when a state elects a governor who’s spent most of his adult life in the employ of one of the planet’s biggest polluters and he fails to make environmental protection a top priority. That said, there is something disturbing and notably blatant about the way the McCrory administration continues to wage war on environmental protection and, it would seem, the very idea that government has a role to play in the matter.

The list of disasters implemented over the last few years in the realm of environmental protection in North Carolina is already a long one — the uninspiring leaders appointed, the half-baked responses to the coal ash mess, the retreat on sea-level rise, the failure to take action on climate change, the lack of investments, the rules compromised — but two new announcements this week serve really to pour symbolic salt on the wound and rub it in.

First is the announcement to be unveiled officially today with the Governor’s proposed budget that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is to be: a) re-christened as the “Department of Energy and  Environment” (I’m sure you noticed which word got second billing) and b) further eviscerated with the transfer of the state zoo as well as several museums and parks (and scientists) to the Department of Cultural Resources.

What’s next? Read More

Commentary

The good folks at Environment North Carolina and Environment America are out with a new report that flags one of North Carolina’s biggest industrial polluters for polluting our national policy debate as well. This is from the release that accompanied the report:

New Report Links Smithfield River Pollution to Political Spending

Raleigh, NC – The owner of Smithfield Foods spent $1.4 million on lobbying in a single year, according to a new report by Environment North Carolina The enormous spending came after Smithfield Packaging dumped over 2.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals into North Carolina’s waterways in 2012.

“Spending millions on lobbying and campaign contributions shouldn’t give polluters a free pass to dump toxins into our waterways,” said Liz Kazal, Environment North Carolina Field Associate. “We need to do more to ensure that the streams that flow into places like Jordan Lake and the Deep River are protected.”

Environment North Carolina’s report links discharges of toxic chemicals as reported in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012 with federally reported campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures for 2014.

Major findings of the report include:

  • Smithfield Foods dumped 2,339,770 pounds of toxic pollution into North Carolina’s waterways.
  • Smithfield Packaging Company spent $1.4 million dollars on lobbying and $204,006 on 2014 campaign cycle.

Right now, polluters are lobbying their allies on Capitol Hill to derail EPA’s plan to restore Clean Water Act protections to 135,907 miles of streams in North Carolina. Loopholes in the law currently leave the waterways that feed the drinking water for 4.7 million North Carolinians at risk.

The report goes on to explain the horrific impact of water pollution like Smithfield’s (both on our natural environment and surrounding businesses). Click here to read more and learn about corporate lobbying to block clean-up efforts by the federal EPA.