Commentary, News

Sierra Club calls for an end to failed “solar bee” project in Jordan Lake

As Chris Fitzsimon explained at some length earlier this month, the silly experiment by state environmental officials to clean up the Triangle’s Jordan Lake with over-sized eggbeaters known as “solar bees” has been the disastrous flop that anyone paying attention could have foreseen:

Solar bee“It is now indisputable that the mixers still in place aren’t doing anything about the algae problem, which makes sense when you think about it. As Mary McLean Asbill of the Southern Environmental Law Center told ABC11 News, “The pollution needs to be stopped before entering the lake. It is absurd to think you can remove the pollution from the lake without doing anything to stem the flow of it into the lake.”

It is absurd indeed, but that’s exactly what legislative leaders said would happen when they approved the no-bid contract with the company that makes the giant mixers that are supposed to miraculously stir the lake clean.

And their failure has cost more than just the several millions of dollars of taxpayer money that were wasted. The folly of the SolarBees means that the pollution in Jordan Lake has not been addressed and it’s the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Now, environmental advocates are renewing their call to end the wasteful and destructive experiment. Yesterday, the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club called on the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission to demand action from the McCrory administration. This is the conclusion to the group’s letter:

“In light of the implications for water quality and taxpayers, we urge the ERC to, at a minimum, require DEQ to provide a status update on the report, along with the new timetable for review by the EMC and delivery to the legislature. We would also encourage the ERC to require DEQ to provide an explanation of any changes made to the originally published report.

Even without a formal presentation, the ERC would appear to now have adequate water quality monitoring data and in-depth analysis to show the ineffectiveness of the water mixers. We respectfully request the ERC to recommend that the NCGA end the SolarBee pilot project and allow full implementation of the Jordan Lake Rules. We also request that any taxpayer funds allocated to DEQ for the demonstration project be reallocated to the Jordan Lake nutrient management strategy developed by the Environmental Management Commission.

The ERC has an important role in protecting Jordan Lake as a safe drinking water source and ensuring that strategies to maintain Jordan Lake water quality are based on science. Thank you for your attention to this important water quality issue.”

Let’s hope that lawmakers are paying attention and that environmental advocates keep pressing their demands.

Commentary, News

This week’s top five stories on NC Policy Watch

Merrick Garland1. Obama nominates Merrick Garland as next Supreme Court Justice
President Barack Obama’s choice to fill the open slot on the U.S. Supreme Court is 63-year-old Merrick Garland, currently Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The President made his announcement Wednesday morning from the Rose Garden, setting off a battle with Republicans in the U.S. Senate, most of whom have vowed to block any of Obama’s nominees, arguing that the selection to replace deceased Justice Antonin Scalia should be left to the next president.

Here’s Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Arizona who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee just this morning: [Continue reading…]

Bonus reads:

Burr, Tillis take to social media to dismiss Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee
The case for considering Supreme Court nominee Garland is overwhelming

Keep calm2. Staying calm and focused in a raucous election year
Keeping perspective, commitment to peaceful change the best path for progressives

In a 1947 speech in the British House of Commons, Winston Churchill famously and correctly observed that “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

Messy, disorganized and inefficient as it is, democratic government is one of the best things that humans have come up with in the 50,000 years or so since they started living together in civilized societies. Try as we might to come up with new systems or to recycle old ones, the merits of peaceful, participatory elections and governance keep rising to the top — especially when married to a robust set of civil and human rights. [Continue reading…]

School grades3. Panel of educators, activists pan N.C.’s system of grading schools

North Carolina’s controversial method of grading its schools—which includes dishing out “D” or “F” grades to designated “low-performing schools”—failed to find a single defender at a forum of educators, lobbyists and activists Monday night in Raleigh.

The meeting, led by the Public School Forum of N.C., a research and policy group in Raleigh, centered on identification of low-performing schools, a system that hinges heavily on test scores.

Most who spoke Monday said the formula should focus more on student growth in test scores, so as not to unfairly penalize schools with a challenging student body.

Currently, 80 percent of a school’s performance grade is determined by test scores. The remaining 20 percent keys upon students’ academic growth. [Continue reading…]

Erica L. #24. Equality advocates to lawmakers: Please don’t legislate in favor of hate and discrimination

A group of human and civil rights advocates gathered in front of the state Legislative Building this morning to plead with state lawmakers and Governor McCrory not to try and override the nondiscrimination ordinance adopted by the city of Charlotte.

As we have reported previously, conservative legislators are threatening to call a special session of the General Assembly prior to next month’s scheduled return in order to take precisely such action. The explanation for the action: the professed (and illusory) concern that the law’s guarantee of access to public restrooms for transgender people will somehow serve as an invitation for male sexual predators to enter women’s restrooms. [Continue reading…]

Water pollution5. McCrory administration’s reversal on drinking water safety near coal ash sites raises questions, concerns

Residents are right to be skeptical of the state’s sudden claims that their water has been safe all along
North Carolina officials owe residents and local officials in Lee County an apology, and they owe every North Carolinian an explanation.
Over the past month, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services have walked back their own recommendation that families in Lee County not drink or cook using water from wells with carcinogens that exceed their own standards.

The water is now safe, they say, and it always has been.

Last November, private wells within a half-mile of open-pit clay mines in the county were tested to collect baseline data. Duke Energy plans to move more than 7 million tons of coal ash from sites in Lumberton and Goldsboro and dispose of it in the abandoned Lee County clay mines. [Continue reading…]

Commentary

YCMTSU: State “solves” drinking water problem around coal ash sites by weakening the rules

From the good folks at ACTAgainstCoalAsh.org

Residents Across North Carolina Outraged by State’s Decision to Rescind Do-Not-Drink Orders:
ACT Against Coal Ash Demands Solutions for Contaminated Wells at DEQ Public Hearings

Across North Carolina, Duke Energy’s neighbors, many of whom have been living on bottled water for over 10 months, as well as Lee County residents are outraged by the state’s decision to rescind 235 do not drink orders. The flip-flop from state regulators came just two days before another round of DEQ’s public hearings on coal ash basin closure, adding to residents’ mistrust of Governor McCrory and the staff he appointed to run DEQ and DHHS.

Tonight, the Down East Coal Ash Coalition plans to make a big showing at DEQ’s public hearing for Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee plant in Goldsboro, N.C. Local resident, Johnnie Gurley is skeptical that DEQ will prioritize the public’s interest over Duke Energy’s profits. “First, a fine of $25 million for violations of the law at one site reduced to $7 million for all of them,” explains Gurley, “Then, just as we found out about a secret dinner between the Governor, DEQ leadership and Duke Energy Executives, coal ash sites that were classified as ‘’high priority” are now “low”, or “low-intermediate”. Now, suddenly, water we were told not to drink because it was contaminated is safe to drink. Either God worked a miracle or Governor McCrory is in Duke Energy’s pocket.” Read more

Commentary

Yet another report indicates that “solar bees” are a flop

More bad news for conservative politicians and bureaucrats doing everything in their power to avoid/delay the costly but essential clean-up of the Triangle’s Jordan Lake: yet another study has found the much-heralded plan to improve water quality with big eggbeaters known as “solar bees” to have been a big, fat failure.

This is from the newest report from the Department of Environmental Quality, “Survey of In Situ Strategies for Mitigation of Water Quality Impairments in North Carolina”:

“After reviewing the available scientific evidence, no single in situ technology or combination of technologies appears to be feasible for restoring North Carolina’s large waterbodies, including the piedmont reservoirs and estuaries subject to nutrient management strategies. A comprehensive, adaptive, and science-based approach to reducing nutrient inputs to the watershed remains the most viable option for recovering these waterbodies from impairment. Based on available information, in situ strategies may be able to serve some adjunct role to watershed controls, but the dearth of trials for such technologies at large scales makes this possibility virtually hypothetical at this point.”

That’s a fancy, executive summary way of saying the eggbeaters don’t work. Here’s more from later in the report:

“Monitoring data from this study indicates no significant change in water quality from areas where the machines are placed in impaired areas versus control sites, or from historical versus project area data (Division of Water Resources, 2015). Utilization of this measure in NC reservoirs does not appear to be effective as they do not have the ability to overcome the normal productivity of high nutrient systems. These create aesthetic issues as they float on the surface of the water, and are continually visible. They have the potential to create other user conflicts such as hazards to boating due to the density and amount of machines required to circulate large open waterbodies (sic).”

As you will recall, a report last fall already reported similar results.

The bottom line, as Mary MacLean Asbill of the Southern Environmental law Center told ABC 11’s Jon Camp:

“The report indicates that there has no progress in cleaning up Jordon Lake. There’s been no reduction in the nutrients which is the problem the SolarBees were purported to address. The pollution needs to be stopped before entering the lake. It is absurd to think you can remove the pollution from the lake without doing anything to stem the flow of it into the lake. The measures need to be taken in the beginning rather than the end.”

Hopefully, state lawmakers and the McCrory administration will now, finally, get off their duffs and get to work halting the pollution that’s flowing into the lake. Sadly, however, more stalling and excuse making for polluters seems just as likely.

Commentary, News

The coal ash mess: Three “must reads” plus a powerful video

Coal ash clean upSeveral important items of note in the coal ash world this morning:

#1 – The Wilmington Star News reports that Duke Energy has begun moving with what one might describe as “all deliberate speed” (emphasis on deliberate) to remove more than seven million tons of coal ash from just one of its numerous dumps across the state — this one in New Hanover County. In the four-plus months since the removal commenced, 82,000 tons have been moved or roughly 1% of all that needs to come out. It is a testament to the massive nature of the problem and the absurd inaction by Duke and state regulators that things are this bad.

#2 -The Fayetteville Observer reports that the city of Sanford is treating coal ash liquid (“leachate”) in its wastewater treatment plant and then discharging it (along, potentially, with nasty heavy metals) into the Deep River — something that, understandably, worries some environmental advocates.

#3 – Meanwhile, Gov. Pat “Standing in the bathroom door” McCrory continues to mostly ignore the problem. This new and powerful video from the good folks at Progress NC features a woman who lives near a coal ash dump and must now live on bottled water — apparently in perpetuity.  Not surprisingly, the Guv hasn’t responded to her requests for a meeting.

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#4 – Finally, the League of Conservation Voters reports that NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hearings on the handling of coal ash from Duke Energy’s multiple ash pits around the state begin tonight at simultaneous events in Asheville, Dallas (Gaston County), Eden (Rockingham County), and Wilmington. This is from the LCV’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

Each of the hearings begins at 6:00pm. Concerned members of the public are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should show up early in order to sign up.

Citizen conservation groups are working to turn out concerned citizens at all the hearings, and are planning a news conference at 5:30pm at the Gaston County hearing site in the town of Dallas. Members of the concerned public are invited to appear for the advance news event as well. The Dallas hearing will particularly address the Riverbend Steam Station, and will be held in the Gaston College Myers Center Auditorium (201 Highway U.S. 321 South, Dallas, NC 28034).

The planned message from citizen conservationists will emphasize that all of Duke’s unlined, leaking coal ash sites across North Carolina are high risk and should be cleaned up by moving the toxic coal ash to dry, lined storage away from rivers and groundwater. The communities and people of our state deserve to have clean water, protected from the threat of toxic coal ash pollution.

None of the sites are in fact “low risk” and they cannot safely be capped and left in place to continuing seeping into our water supplies. More than 200 seeps from Duke’s coal ash pits collectively send about three million gallons a day into our waters. It is past time for DEQ to order swift cleanup of these continuing pollution sources.

The other three March 1 sites are

  • Asheville: AB Technical Community College Ferguson Auditorium, 340 Victoria Road, Asheville NC 28801
  • Eden: Eden Town Hall, 308 East Stadium Drive, Eden NC 27288
  • Wilmington: Cape Fear Community College, room N-202, 411 N. Front Street, Wilmington NC 28401.

Eleven additional hearings will follow in future weeks, between March 10 and March 29.