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One of the most knowledgeable environmental advocacy groups working on North Carolina’s coal ash dilemma — the state chapter of the Sierra Club — had mixed reviews for the new legislation approved by lawmakers yesterday:

NC Sierra Club Response to Final Passage of S 729, Coal Ash Management Act

The legislature today gave final approval to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that for the first time regulates coal ash like other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash.

Following the Dan River coal ash spill, revelations that coal ash pollution has contaminated rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water resulted in an unprecedented public demand for action. Duke Energy produces an estimated 1.2 million tons of coal ash a year in North Carolina. Currently, all coal ash sites have groundwater contamination and nearly all are releasing contaminants into rivers, lakes or reservoirs.

The bill will require Duke Energy to phase out wet ash handling. Duke’s outdated method of disposing of coal ash in ponds next to waterways has led to water contamination across the state. With the passage of this bill, for the first time all coal ash will be covered by North Carolina’s solid waste laws. Further, when coal ash is used as fill to build up land for large construction projects, measures like groundwater monitoring and liners will be required.

Unfortunately, final changes to the conference report intended to protect against ongoing groundwater pollution at ten sites do not go far enough to address a major issue that must be resolved to protect NC residents and communities.

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Advocates at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation have formally called on the state Environmental Management Commission to conduct a review of questionable circumstances surrounding the demise of rules designed to prevent water pollution.

According to a letter from the groups that was delivered to the Commission yesterday, proposed rules governing riparian buffer mitigation (i.e. the use of vegetated strips of land along side waterways to protect them from pollution) were scuttled last year when the Rules Review Commission received several letters of objection. Under state law, when the Commission receives 10 or more such letters, the rule(s) in question are forwarded to the General Assembly for additional review.

In this case, however, four of the 11 letters of objection ultimately submitted were from McCrory administration staffers employed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). As the environmental advocates note, this may well have been an unprecedented and highly questionable set of circumstances: Read More

Offshore windThis just in from the good folks the the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club:

For Immediate Release

North Carolina Moves One Step Closer to Offshore Wind Development

WILMINGTON – Earlier today, the US Department of the Interior announced that it has defined three Wind Energy Areas off the coast of North Carolina which total 307,590 acres. The possibility of offshore wind development for the state intensified after a study by UNC Chapel Hill researchers found that potential wind resources off our coast were the largest on the Atlantic seaboard. A report by Governor Perdue’s Scientific Advisory Panel on Offshore Energy came to a similar conclusion in 2011.

After the announcement, Zak Keith, lead organizer for the NC Sierra Club issued the following statement:

We have known for years that North Carolina has the best offshore wind resource potential of any state on the East Coast. This announcement is a welcome sign that our state can start to take advantage of the clean energy opportunity sitting on our doorstep.

We are one step closer to creating clean energy jobs in North Carolina. It’s becoming clear that offshore wind is a better option than drilling off our coast.

Coal AshThe North Carolina House passed a weakened version of the already inadequate Senate coal ash plan today and environmental experts quickly labeled the legislation as wholly inadequate.

Here’s the rather measured statement from the folks at the NC Sierra Club:

“After weeks of expectation and speculation, the House missed the opportunity to build on the Senate’s good start and to address key shortcomings in the legislation. Under Speaker Tillis’ leadership, the House failed to make the final set of changes needed to give North Carolinians the protection they deserve from Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash.

There are no clear requirements in this legislation to ensure it does what it’s intended to do: remove the threat of coal ash to all our waters, and all our communities.

Not only does the bill fail to add protections missing from the Senate version of the bill, but it appears to undermine a recent court ruling stemming from a citizen suit that would require Duke Energy to immediately eliminate the source of its groundwater contamination.

North Carolinians’ right to clean water has been under threat by coal ash for decades. As lawmakers try to settle their differences on this bill in conference committee, communities are counting on them to protect their families and water.”

Meanwhile, activists at NC WARN — which has battled Duke Energy for years over myriad issues — were even more pointed: Read More

Coal ash clean upA day after yesterday’s disappointing but expected approval by Gov. McCrory of a new law to fast-track fracking in North Carolina, the General Assembly moves on to another critical environmental issue today — coal ash. The good folks at the Sierra Club issued the following statement about today’s 9:30 a.m. meeting:

“On Thursday, June 5, the Senate Committee on Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources will discuss S 729, the Governor’s Coal Ash Action Plan. The plan, which drew widespread criticism for not going far enough when announced, has been referenced as a starting point by the Senate….

Public outcry for addressing our state’s coal ash crisis came immediately after 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River in Rockingham County on February 2. The spill, which was the third largest coal ash spill ever in the United States, put a spotlight on a threat that has existed for decades.
Duke operates 14 facilities in North Carolina with leaky unlined coal ash pits, located next to rivers and lakes, all of which are contaminating groundwater. 1.5 million North Carolinians rely on drinking water sources downstream of these leaking, toxic coal ash pits.

How to best remove the coal ash from unlined pits next to our waterways will likely be part of the discussion tomorrow as the legislature looks for ways to strengthen the Governor’s plan. Read More