Environment, Legislature

State lawmakers ask FERC to stop work on Atlantic Coast Pipeline, reassess need

Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford

More than 20 Democratic legislators, led by Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking it to issue a stop work order on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline while it reassess the need for the $7.8 billion project. The letter, dated April 12, also asks FERC to suspend the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, a requirement for energy projects, during the reassessment.

The ACP’s primary owners are Dominion Energy and Duke Energy. If built, it would start at a fracked gas operation in West Virginia and route more than 600 miles through Virginia, eastern North Carolina and into South Carolina. The project, though has been stalled by successful legal challenges in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is nearly two years behind schedule and at least $2 billion over its initial budget.

The cost increase, the lawmakers wrote, “would be passed on to captive ratepayers.” Instead of developing renewable energy projects, the utilities focus on the ACP “would lock not just North Carolina but the entire Southeast region into decades of climate-disrupting fossil fuel use,” incompatible with the state’s climate goals established in Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80.

The letter notes says that the utilities have overstated the need for natural gas. Duke Energy’s latest Integrated Resource Plan, essentially an energy blueprint for the next 15 years, delays planned natural gas plants by five years, and its “first power plant that might need more gas supply is not proposed to begin operating until many years after the ACP is supposed to be in service.”

 

Lawmakers to FERC by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

The utilities’ and supporters’ rationale for building the ACP is that it would jumpstart the economy in eastern North Carolina. However, subsidiaries of Duke and Dominion are the main customers for the proposed ACP gas in North Carolina. The average cost for a manufacturing plant to connect to the ACP is at least $1 million.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have introduced bills this session to thwart renewable energy in North Carolina, an apparent rebuke to Gov. Cooper’s climate goals. Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, filed legislation that would ban wind energy projects within 100 miles of the coast, ostensibly to prevent them from interfering with military training exercises. However, at a committee meeting last week, the former head of the Defense Department’s Site Clearinghouse, which works with wind energy developers to avoid those impacts, said there have been no cases of wind farms interfering with military bases in the US.

Yesterday five Republicans co-sponsored House Bill 726, which would repeal the state’s Renewable Portfolio Energy Standard. Passed in 2007, the REPS was the first in the Southeast. It set legal benchmarks for utilities to provide, either through generation or purchase, a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources. Currently, it is 10 percent. Duke Energy  previously told the utilities commission that it is meeting those goals.

Environment

Duke Energy to DEQ: See you in court

Duke Energy announced yesterday that it would appeal to the Administrative Office of the Courts the state’s order to excavate all of the coal ash from the utility’s nine remaining unlined pits, also known as basins.

In a prepared statement, Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the order, which was issued on April 1, “would impose a financial burden on our customers and the economy of the Carolinas through the most expensive and disruptive closure option possible, despite that these basins are rated ‘low risk’ by NCDEQ.”

Duke has stated full excavation would add $4 billion to $5 billion to the existing $5.6 billion in costs to clean up all of its ash in the Carolinas — a number that, given the history of other utilities’ estimates for full excavation, could be inflated.

The nine basins are spread over six plants:

Belews Creek (Stokes County ) 1
Marshall (Catawba County) 1
Mayo (Person County) 1
Allen (Gaston County) 2
Roxboro  (Person County) 2
Cliffside/Rogers (Cleveland/Rutherford counties) 2

 

In 2016, under the a different administration of Gov. Pat McCrory and DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart, the state reclassified several of Duke Energy’s basins from high risk to intermediate risk, based on several factors, including groundwater flow. Low risk basins were not required to be cleaned up until 2029. Environmental groups immediate criticized the reclassification, charging politics, not science guided the reclassifications.

For the “low risk” basins, Duke had proposed to either cap the material in the unlined pits — or to develop a “hybrid” of excavation and cap-in-place. At public meetings across the state, residents demanded that DEQ force the utility to fully excavate all of the material and place it in a lined landfill.

In its order, DEQ said its science determined excavation was the clean up method that would be the most protective of health and the environment.

“The process by which NCDEQ arrived at its decision lacked full consideration of the science and engineering, and we will provide those details when we file an appeal before the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings in the near future” Sheehan said.

“DEQ stands by its assessment and conclusions that all coal ash in North Carolina must be excavated,” said Megan Thorpe, DEQ’s director of Public Affairs, in response.

Duke Energy’s claims that full excavation would impose “financial burdens” on its customers and the economy. It’s likely that the state Utilities Commission would pass along some of the costs to ratepayers, but the commission told Duke in the last rate case that it would evaluate those on a “case-by-case” basis. Duke gave no rationale for its claim that full excavation would harm  the economies of North and South Carolina. There is no evidence that full excavation has had similar effects in other states where that method has been used.

Frank Holleman is a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. The SELC successfully sued the utility to force it to fully excavate its ash at the other eight plants in North Carolina. “Duke Energy’s refusal to accept responsibility for cleaning up its dangerous coal ash pits is a slap in the face to the communities in North Carolina living with the pollution from Duke’s leaking, unlined pits,” Holleman said in a prepared statement. “Duke Energy’s decision to fight these cleanups ignores the science confirming that its sites have been polluting our water for decades and will continue to do so for centuries. And it places the public and our rivers and lakes at continued risk of another coal ash catastrophe from the next hurricane or structural failure.”

Environment

Scientists update lawmakers on PFAS research, including presence of compounds in food

Lee Ferguson of Duke University, a co-researcher on PFAs and PFOAs in drinking water in the Triangle. (Photo: Duke University)

In the freezer at Lee Ferguson’s lab at Duke University, there is an Antarctic ice core with layers of the Earth’s atmospheric history trapped inside. Ferguson plans to melt the top portion, then test the water to see if perfluorinated compounds are present. If the melt water tests positive, we’ll know that PFAS has reached one of the most remote places on Earth.

If no PFAS are detected, then life in Antarctica is looking better by the day.

At the House Environment Committee meeting yesterday, lawmakers received an update from the NC Policy Collaboratory about its NC PFAST Network. More than a dozen university scientists are studying the presence, health effects and potential removal treatments of emerging compounds, including GenX, throughout North Carolina.

“This is the largest-scale monitoring team for emerging compounds in the country,” Ferguson said. “We hope it serves as a model for studying emerging compounds and legacy contaminants. You can see the tempo of this research accelerating.”

Scientists are sampling 158 wells and 190 surface water intakes for more than 50 PFAS compounds, as well as what’s called “non-targeted analysis” — searching for unknown compounds, said Wanda Bodnar, assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering at UNC.

Other scientists in the NC PFAST Network are studying the compounds in landfill leachate, air and food crops. Bondar told Rep. Pricey Harrison that team members also plan to look at the potential health effects of interactions of different compounds.

UNC Assistant Professor Wanda Bodnar (Photo: UNC Chapel Hill)

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to testicular and kidney cancer, thyroid and reproductive disorders, and a depressed immune system. Although the chemical industry maintains that GenX is less toxic than the compounds it replaced —  PFOA and PFOS — East Carolina University scientist Jamie Dewitt said that might not be true. “What we see is that GenX and PFAS have the same health effects and act in similar ways. GenX might be even more toxic on liver.”

A study of children in the Faroe Islands, located between Iceland and Norway, found they had a diminished response to vaccines, possibly because of exposure to PFAS. Although the Faroe Islands are remote, its residents are exposed to the compounds through pilot whales, an important food source for them.

UNC scientist Rebecca Fry is conducting a study of pregnant women who are at risk of pre-term delivery. The women are voluntarily allowing their blood and urine to be tested before and after their babies are born. Researchers also will test umbilical cord blood and placentas to determine if PFAS are transmitted in utero, and if so, to what degree.

Policy Collaboratory Research Director Jeffrey Warren called the effort “Herculean.” Lawmakers funded the PFAS project with a $5 million appropriation; the collaboratory has also raised sufficient matching funds to meet a $3.5 million challenge grant.

House Bill 661, co-sponsored by Rep. John Fraley, a Republican from Iredell County, and Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, would appropriate another round of $5 million funding to the Policy Collaboratory to continue its research.

The appropriation would also help match other money. “There’s an enormous amount of federal funds for this,” Warren said. “PFAS is the thing.”

 

Environment

Bills would crack down on polluters, set “precautionary” standard for PFAS and other emerging compounds

Sen. Harper Peterson (D-New Hanover) Photos: NCGA

Sen. Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland)

State environmental regulators would be required to set a standard of 10 parts per trillion for perfluorinated compounds, according to Senate Bill 518, introduced on Friday.

The “precautionary” 10 ppt trillion standard would be applied to any emerging compound for which there are no federal or state regulations. This would include GenX, 1,4-dioxane and the extended family of PFAS compounds.

Primary sponsors are Democratic Sens. Harper Peterson (New Hanover), Kirk deViere (Cumberland) and Floyd McKissick (Durham).

The bill would require DEQ to establish a PFAS task force to comprehensively assess emerging compounds in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin. The task force would conduct “non-targeted” testing for these compounds, of which there are thousands, in not only drinking water, lakes and groundwater, but also soil, air, dust, food and garden and farm products.

The Lower Cape Fear River Basin includes eight counties: Cumberland, Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover, Sampson, Duplin and Pender.

The measure also directs DEQ to collaborate with the state department of health to study the concentrations of these chemicals in people living in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin.

The bill also would require DEQ to identify the responsible polluters. Those polluters, such as Chemours, that contaminate the public or private drinking water supply with PFAS would be required to pay for permanent replacement water, either through a home or building filtration system or connection to a public water supply. The polluter would also have to cover the costs of periodic maintenance of a filtration system.

The requirement would kick in if the water supply contained 10 parts per trillion or more of a single PFAS compound, including GenX, and a cumulative total of 25 ppt for three or more of these compounds. These thresholds are stricter than the state’s current health advisory goal of 140 ppt for GenX. Dozens of private drinking water wells near the Chemours plant in Bladen County have been contaminated with GenX and PFAS, some of them with levels of 1,000 ppt and higher.

The proposal is similar to the state’s requirement that Duke Energy provide alternate water to households within a half-mile of the utility property where coal ash was stored in leaking, unlined pits.

The bill would also repeal the Hardison Amendment, which prohibits state agencies like DEQ from passing stronger regulations than those set by the federal government. (Under the Trump administration, that’s a very low bar.)

Lawmakers passed the amendment in the 1970s, but it was later repealed, only to rise from the dead and be reenacted in 2011, under a Republican majority.

A similar measure, House Bill 566, would require polluters to pay for all cleanup costs and alternate water supplies. This measure also targets Duke Energy, prohibiting the utility from passing along costs of managing and remediating coal ash to the ratepayers.

The measure would also empower DEQ to force a company to immediately stop discharging or emitting contaminants if the Secretary concludes they present an imminent threat.

Primary sponsors are Democratic Reps. Pricey Harrison (Guilford), Brian Turner (Buncombe), Ray Russell (Ashe, Watauga) and Rachel Hunt (Mecklenburg).

 

Environment, Legislature

Among GOP voters surveyed, majority want to break Duke Energy monopoly, doubt climate change is real

A road that had been washed out by intense rains from the catastrophic Hurricane Florence last fall. Climate change, said the majority of Republican voters polled last month, is not real. However, the scientific consensus is that climate change is very real, and storms like Florence are a byproduct of a warming world and an unstable atmosphere. (Photo: NC DOT)

The majority of Republicans surveyed last month would support candidates who were in favor of natural gas pipelines and offshore drilling, according to a poll sponsored by Conservatives for Clean Energy.  And 50% of people who said they vote Republican don’t believe climate change is real.

The results are based on a poll of 600 voters, conducted March 17 and 18. Two hundred forty-two voters said they vote Republican. There were 282 Democratic voters and 76 who said they were undecided.

The margin of error is plus or minus 4%.

Of those who said they vote Republican, 50% doubt that climate change is real and that humans are responsible for it. Only 5% of Democratic voters polled share that view.

Whether a person believes in climate change appeared to determine their views on energy. Eighty-five percent of climate change deniers said they would support fossil-fuel candidates, roughly the same proportion who favor candidates that are pro-natural gas pipeline. More than three-quarters of climate change deniers would support candidates who are pro-offshore drilling.

However, the GOP does show some support for renewable energy sources, primarily for economic, not environmental reasons. Two-thirds of self-identified Republicans “believe solar and wind energy represent technological advances in energy production and should be expanded to help meet North Carolina’s future energy needs.” That figure compares with 77% of all voters and 71% of those registered as unaffiliated.

Three-quarters of Republicans polled said they are more likely to support candidates who are in favor of renewable energy, including wind, solar and waste-to-energy technologies. But the poll also showed that nearly the same number of Republicans would also support candidates who were pro-fossil fuels.

By comparison, 93% of Democrats and 81%t of unaffiliated voters would be more likely to support candidates who are in favor of renewable energy.

And nearly 8 in 10 voters surveyed oppose Duke Energy’s near-monopoly in North Carolina. Those voters agreed with the statement that “North Carolina’s current system of a controlled utility serving as the sole source of energy is an outdated model and that elected officials need to enact laws that promote innovation and competition to meet our energy needs.”

“Technology is changing our society, and voter attitudes reflect that,” said Mark Fleming, CCE President & CEO, in a prepared statement.  “Renewable energy, competition, and consumer choice are clear priorities for North Carolina residents.  This survey shows that these same voters want elected officials to enact pro-renewable, pro-competition policies.”

If these surveyed voters are representative of the state overall, then several GOP lawmakers are defying the wishes of most North Carolinians, including many within their own party. Sen. Brown introduced a bill that would essentially kill wind farms within 100 miles of the coast. Reps. Dixon and Bell filed legislation that would de-incentivize solar projects by reducing their property tax breaks.