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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.

SkvarlaToothbrushDENR Secretary John Skvarla grimaced his way through a February 19th press briefing on the Dan River coal ash spill. Only as he walked smartly away from a clamoring press corps, which was chagrined at the briefing’s premature cessation, did he crack a smile, followed by a smirking Tom Reeder, his Water Quality Man Friday. They had promised a press conference that would last as long as there were questions to be asked, but Michael Biesecker of the Associated Press had apparently asked one too many.

A disconsolate Skvarla famously urged his besieged staff to “smile, be happy, have fun and enjoy the process – because if we can’t do that we’re all doing the wrong thing”. He even urged them by email to include it as a measurable goal in their Employee Performance Plans. By any public measure Skvarla is failing miserably in this category, though to be fair he and other political appointees may sit around privately laughing at the sorry state of North Carolina’s eroding environmental protections.
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DENR Secretary John Skvarla

DENR Secretary John Skvarla

Students of history will remember that back in the bad old days of the Soviet Union, once prominent leaders would sometimes “disappear” from official government photos and records when they fell from favor with the powers that be. One year an official could be a close ally of Stalin and the next simply become a “non-person.”

“Comrade Zinoviev? Never heard of him.”

It now appears that North Carolina may well have embarked on a similar path when it comes to one of the most important public policy issues of our time. According to WRAL.com, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (an agency already battered by the disastrous publicity it has received in the aftermath of the Dan River coal ash disaster) has decided to make climate change a “non-issue.” This is from the WRAL story:

“Links and documents about climate change have recently disappeared from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources website. Read More

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

Coal ashTwo important bits of news on the coal ash front this afternoon:

#1  is this letter from attorney Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which was sent to Gov. McCrory yesterday. It spells out in great detail where things stand, what the environmental advocates think needs to happen and expresses grave concerns about the consistently conflicting stories emanating from the  Governor’s office and that of his Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, John Skvarla (as well as Skvarla’s apparent continuing failure to grasp the basic facts of the situation).

#2: If you read Chris Fitzsimon’s Friday Follies this morning, you know that Skvarla has still made no real public announcement of a promised task force to examine the state’s gigantic coal ash “pond” problem. As Chris noted:

“And then there’s this interesting nugget from the blog Coal Ash Chronicles.  There is no mention at all on DENR’s website of the coal ash task force that DENR announced with some fanfare on February 11, nine days after the Dan River spill. Read More