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Fiery Esquire journalist Charles Pierce weighed in on the Duke coal ash mess yesterday afternoon in this column and, as you can see, he pulled no punches:

“There’s a lot of very weird stuff going on in the newly insane state of North Carolina. The state has a problem with coal ash, and with its groundwater, and with the reluctance of Duke Energy to clean up, among other things, the 39,000 fking [tons*] of the gunk that it spilled into the Dan River in February. The state’s Environmental Management Commission decided that Duke Energy needed a “reasonable amount of time” to correct the groundwater violations. (As should be obvious, you could sail a coal barge through that adjective there.) A Superior Court judge said to hell with that noise and reversed the commission’s findings, demanding that the clean-up begin immediately.

And you will never guess what the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission did.

No, really, you will never guess.

Give up?

They appealed the judge’s ruling.

Told you that you wouldn’t believe it.

Read the rest of Pierce’s column by clicking here.

*… Pierce’s column understated this figure as 39,000 pounds.

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Coal ash clean upIf you’re unclear as to the status of the various legal proceedings surrounding Duke Energy’s coal ash mess, be sure to check out this morning’s story over on the main PW site by Courts and Law Reporter Sharon McCloskey – “Flurry of filings by Duke and state officials spell lengthy delays for coal ash clean up.” As Sharon reports, things in North Carolina are, sadly, not following the relatively expeditious and effective path they followed in South Carolina (where the clean-up is already underway).

“In just a little over a year, from lawsuit to settlement in 2012, citizen and conservation groups in South Carolina pushed South Carolina Electric & Gas to begin cleaning up coal ash contamination at its sites there.

State environmental regulators stayed out and the utility stepped up, coming up with a plan to remove the ash from lagoons and either re-use it if possible or move it to lined storage elsewhere.

A similar push was afoot in North Carolina as groups investigated contamination at Duke Energy plants across the state, asked the state’s Environmental Management Commission for a ruling on how groundwater contamination rules applied to coal ash sites here, and prepared for lawsuits against the company for contamination at its Asheville and Riverbend plants.

But unlike what happened in South Carolina, Read More

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Coal AshAs this recent editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer noted, the Duke coal ash disaster seems to have brought about some real (if rather hypocritical) improvements in the public debate over environmental protection in North Carolina. Sadly, however, state policy under the current state leadership remains terribly flawed and stuck in “regulatory rollback” mode. A classic case in point was highlighted in this morning’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin from the League of Conservation Voters:

“We’ve been waiting for it, and now it’s begun: the formal review process for North Carolina’s most critical legal protections for clean water. These are the rules that the state has used to demand protection of drinking water, water-based recreation, fishing and wildlife resources – and that citizens can use to force action when the state fails to do its job.

Many of these key protections from pollution have been in place for more than a decade, and have worked to hold many abuses in check. Regardless, the N.C. General Assembly as part of last year’s regulatory “reform” legislation mandated that they all be put on a fast track for review. (And if they’re not renewed, on greased rails to the trash heap.) Read More

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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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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