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If all of the coal ash leaking into the state’s various waterways isn’t enough to get you steamed at the state’s  leadership for eviscerating our environmental regulations and regulators, here’s another story that might put you over the edge — it comes from Dan Besse of the League of Conservation Voters and Charlotte’s public radio station, WFAE. This is from the LCV Monday morning newsletter:

State enforcement of controls on sediment pollution of waterways in North Carolina has dropped dramatically since 2010, according to an analysis by reporters from WFAE radio in Charlotte.

The analysis shows that the number of inspections of construction sites by state inspectors has dropped markedly, and that the frequency with which discovered non-compliance with pollution control rules is cited for violations has been cut as well. Enforcement agency staff acknowledge that their inspection staff has been slashed by the state legislature, from 65 to 40, with more cuts coming.

Sediment – or in lay terms, mud – from construction sites and other activities is one of the most pervasive and problematic causes of water degradation. It fills in reservoirs, buries stream bottom habitat for fish and their food sources, and fouls drinking water sources. Policing the sediment runoff from construction activities in our state is a shared local/state responsibility, critical to the task of protecting water quality.

North Carolina has been a regional leader in that effort since passage of the Sedimentation Control Act of 1973. However, putting adequate resources into the job has always been a challenge. The WFAE study quantifies just how much worse the situation has become in the past four years. Read More

Commentary

FrackingAs you may have heard, North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission held the last in a series of meetings last Friday during which they considered public feedback on the draft fracking rules. Despite having received over 200,000 public comments over the last few months, the Commission only made a few little changes to the rules. They have now come up with a finalized set of rules which will eventually make its way to the General Assembly, where it is likely to be approved. Given that fracking may begin in North Carolina as early as next year, you may want to know a thing or two about these rules.

The majority of the public comments called for stricter safety rules. In response, the Commission made some of the following changes:

  • Unannounced inspections will be permitted – the rules will now allow inspections to take place without prior notice to drillers, in order to encourage the drillers to maintain ongoing compliance.
    (BUT note: the rule is just providing permission, it is neither requiring that inspections take place nor requiring that they take place with regular frequency)
  • Amount of time for permit application to be approved or denied will be increased to 180 days – this allows the public to have more notice and opportunity to comment on the request.
  • So-called “fluid pits” will be required to be larger and continuous monitoring will be required – fracking fluid is held in large open pits, which can be a huge safety hazard. The Commission did not ban open fluid pits but rather just increased their size, in order to prevent spills, and increased the frequency of monitoring for leakage into the ground, from monthly to continuous.

Among the items the rules don’t address: Read More

Commentary

060810_1509_Environment1.jpgThe good people at Environment North Carolina and their national allies released a powerful new report today that’s worth your time to check out. It’s called “Waterways Restored: The Clean Water Act’s Impact on 15 American Rivers, Lakes and Bays” and it does at least two extremely important things:

1)  It demonstrates the amazing success of a vitally important environmental protection law — the Clean Water Act, and

2) It makes the case for saving that law from the relentless attacks of corporate polluters and restoring it to its original intent of making all American waters safe for fishing and and swimming.

As the report explains, the Clean Water Act has, over the last 42 years, made enormous strides in cleaning up and preserving our nation’s waters. The report highlights 15 of these success stories, including North Carolina’s North Fork First Broad River, which has, thanks to the CWA, been been preserved as a pristine fishing venue and home to numerous endangered species. Other, more urban waterways like Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River and Boston Harbor have been brought back from the dead to become thriving and healthy sites as a result of the law.

Unfortunately and not surprisingly, major polluters continue to fight the law at every turn. Several years ago, they secured a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling that created some giant loopholes in the law and essentially excluded a huge number of the nation’s streams and waterways from protection. As a result, 56% of North Carolina’s rivers and streams are no longer protected by the law as they should be.

To correct this glaring gap in the law, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA have proposed new rules to clarify that thousands of rivers and streams now excluded will be included in the law’s protections. The new report calls on these agencies to go ahead and finalize these new rules as quickly as possible.

Click here to read the report. The discussion of the North Fork First Broad River can be found on pages 25 and 26.

Commentary

This morning’s Winston-Salem Journal is on the mark in decrying the McCrory administration’s inexcusable and all-too-predictable secrecy in discussions surrounding oil and gas development along the North Carolina coast. As the editorial notes:

When it comes to North Carolina’s coast and processes that affect all of us, the McCrory administration needs to stop meeting behind closed doors.

State officials, along with officials from South Carolina and Virginia, met privately last week with federal regulators and groups funded by oil and gas companies to discuss plans for drilling off the Atlantic coast, The Associated Press reported. Reporters and members of environmental groups were excluded until the conclusion of the meeting at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh….

The rationale offered for the closed meeting was that organizers wanted “to avoid any potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest,” according to Donald van der Vaart, the energy policy adviser for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Re-sources.

But meeting with only parties that are amenable to profiting from offshore drilling creates just that impression….

If we do enter into offshore drilling, if our leaders can convince us it’s the right thing to do, it must be done responsibly and with adequate protective measures. The people of North Carolina must be included in the process from beginning to end.

Our coast is a natural treasure that supports a lucrative tourism industry. Before any drilling begins, we need to be sure that money-making treasure won’t be put at risk. But we’ll never be able to discern that through closed doors.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

 

Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out this this editorial in the Wilmington Star News: “Special interests invited to drilling meeting but not public.” As the paper rightfully explains, the McCrory administration’s latest gaffe when it comes to protecting our environment was as offensive as it was familiar.

The paper summarily dismisses and rebuts state Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla’s disingenuous excuses for excluding environmental advocates from the meeting:

“His staff told reporters and representatives of environmental groups that they couldn’t come in because of concerns that their attendance might arouse allegations of conflict of interest in the permit process. And attendance by special-interest groups funded by the petroleum industry would not?

What is clear is that state officials seem very comfortable shutting out people who may have some pertinent questions about safety and environmental measures regarding oil and gas exploration. Thursday’s meeting seems to be part of a pattern of excluding people who have serious concerns about the potential for pollution, dangers to marine life and public health problems and even geological ramifications if North Carolina is opened to oil and gas exploration, as Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders want.”

The authors conclude this way:

“North Carolinians of all political stripes are concerned about their natural surroundings and about their families’ health. Keeping secrets from them will not win their trust, or support for drilling.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.