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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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Hog industryCoal ash isn’t the only pollutant wreaking havoc in North Carolina’s waterways these days; the enormous problems posed by industrial hog production are back in the news. As noted in this space last week, there’s a stomach-turning crisis underway as you read this in involving a porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus outbreak in North Carolina.

This morning’s Fayetteville Observer weighs in on the subject with an editorial bearing the marvelously understated headline “Our view: Dead pigs, water may be an unhealthy mix.” As the editorial notes (after describing in grim detail what’s been going on) the recent coal ash disaster caused by lax regulation offers little hope that regulators are taking all necessary steps: Read More

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Coal ash spillIn case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out reporter Trip Gabriel’s excellent story in the New York Times about how the recent Dan River coal ash spill has served to expose the ways in which the McCrory administration has “defanged” the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Here’s how it begins:

“Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers.

‘The General Assembly doesn’t like you,’ an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors called to a drab meeting room here. ‘They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.’

From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. ‘If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.’”

Read the rest of Gabriel’s sobering story by clicking here.

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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