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The post-2014 election era in North Carolina government is not off to a terribly encouraging start. As Tyler Dukes and Cullen Browder of WRAL.com reported yesterday:

Gov. Pat McCrory told a gathering of state and federal officials Thursday it was time to figure out what kind of oil and gas resources might lie off the North Carolina coast.

The governor was the last in a day-long lineup of speakers that included agencies involved with the regulation of offshore drilling as well as groups with close ties to the petroleum industry.

But aside from McCrory’s comments, the entire invite-only event was off-limits both to the public and environmental groups that say they should have at least had an opportunity to listen.

And this is from Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

State and federal government officials met in a private workshop on Thursday to talk about the potential for offshore energy development off the North Carolina coast. The reason it was not open to the public, as Dome recently reported, was ostensibly to prevent the appearance of influence on permit application reviews currently underway by the federal government.

So, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources explained at the time, attendance would be limited to agencies and elected officials. But actually, representatives of three associations whose membership includes the oil and gas industry were included on the agenda and attended.

Not that behavior like this is anything new in Raleigh since the GOP took control, but it does serve to make clear to anyone who had any doubts, that all of this talk about representing and listening to everyone and governing “with humility” is simply a laughable smokescreen as the men in power go about doing the dirty business that their real bosses (the Kochs, the Popes, et al.) have ordered. Hold on tight – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Commentary

In case you missed it on Friday, Michael Biesecker at AP had another troubling story on Duke Energy’s seemingly metastasizing coal ash mess. This is the lead:

Federal environmental officials spurred North Carolina regulators to reverse a policy allowing Duke Energy to drain massive amounts of polluted wastewater from its coal ash dumps directly into the state’s rivers and lakes, according to documents.

The Southern Environmental Law Center released documents Friday showing that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources quietly gave Duke approval on Aug. 28 to start emptying liquids from all of its 33 coal ash dumps across the state through existing drain pipes at the facilities.

Good grief! What’s next? Direct pipelines into the backyards of all of Duke’s residential customers? Meanwhile, this is from Dan Besse’s Monday morning update for the League of Conservation Voters:

Around the state…Recalculating?

Users of GPS devices can attest to the high annoyance factor of the perpetual “recalculating…” messages received when they take a wrong turn.

Perhaps that helps explain our aggravation at Duke energy’s latest “whoops” on coal ash. According to Duke, it appears that they ‘miscalculated’ the amount of toxic coal ash they have stored at leaking pits around the state by, oh, about six million tons or so. Read More

Commentary

Coal ash clean upThe Charlotte Business Journal reports that Duke Energy has decided to change its present course and bury the coal ash at another one of its South Carolina sites in a lined landfill.

Hallelujah.

As has been noted multiple times by environmental experts, moving toxic coal ash to lined landfills is the only realistic option when it comes to keeping this nasty substance out of our water supplies. And the longer Duke dithers and delays, the greater the risk that another Dan River disaster (or, God forbid, another Kingston, Tennessee calamity) will hit our state.

Fortunately, the main, high technology devices involved in moving the ash are something called a bulldozer and a dump truck. The problem is that it takes a heckuva lot of them working for heckuva long time to get the job done (which, of course, costs a heckuva lot of money).

To  which all a body can say in response is: “Tough. Duke, you made the mess along with gigantic profits on the tab of ratepayers. It’s time to get to work and repay some of the debt you owe to society.”

Let’s hope this new development from south of the border is a harbinger of something more than just a small step for the future of our environment.

Commentary

FrackingThe folks in the right-wing think tanks seem to be getting less and less circumspect when it comes to blatantly repackaging the  propaganda and poll-tested talking points of polluters and other corporate scofflaws as “research.” Take for instance the report distributed by the Locke Foundation this morning in a press release headlined:  “Fracking fluid consists almost entirely of water, sand.” The “key facts” from the report makes the whole fracking process sound about as dangerous as a school custodian hosing down the driveway next to the cafeteria dumpster. Consider the following claims:

-Chemicals used in fracking are about 99 percent water and sand.
-The rest is a blend of chemical additives used to condition the water, prevent well casing corrosion, control the fluid pH levels, kill bacteria, etc.
-Most of the chemicals used for fracking are also found in typical household products, including soaps, makeup, and other personal care products. That means they are chemicals people already willingly encounter daily and safely.
-They are also used in consumer products for homes, pets, and yards.

In other words, “Chill out people; what’s all the hubbub about?”

Well, here are just a few things: Not to nitpick, but most of the fluid surrounding the Fukushima nuclear facility is probably water and sand too. Obviously, it doesn’t take a lot of poison to render a fluid dangerous to living things. For some poisons the measurements are made in parts per million or even parts per billion.

Moreover, even if added chemicals really do only make up 1%  of fracking fluid, it’s important to understand that a typical well can take two-to-four million gallons to frack. One-percent of four million is 40,000 gallons. Read More

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Coal ashPeople who know the score are not displaying a lot of enthusiasm about the coal ash bill that will be run through he House Rules Committee this morning. As the website Coal Ash Chronicles noted yesterday:

“[C]losing” a coal ash pond and “cleaning up” a coal ash pond or spill … those are totally different things. The first option leaves coal ash where it is alongside the state’s waterways — which flow into your house and businesses — and the second moves the coal ash away from the water to either be landfilled or repurposed.”

The experts at the Southern Environmental Law Center issued this statement early last evening on behalf of an array of concerned environmental advocates:

S729 Fails to Protect People from Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The coal ash bill issued by a conference committee of the N.C. General Assembly today fails to require cleanup of 10 coal ash sites across North Carolina by allowing Duke Energy to leave its polluting coal ash in unlined, leaking pits at 10 of 14 sites. The bill leaves at risk people in nearby and downstream communities throughout North Carolina and other states. The bill seeks to weaken existing law and protect Duke Energy from taking responsibility for its coal ash waste.

Allowing coal ash to be left in unlined, leaking pits across North Carolina with documented groundwater contamination at each site is not a cleanup plan nor does it protect the people of North Carolina. Many sites across the country where coal ash has been covered up or “capped” in place continue to experience high levels of toxic pollution. Covering up coal ash and calling sites “closed” does not stop or clean up pollution. Read More