Environment

2019 warmest on record in North Carolina (and so far, 2020 is no slouch)

The average temperature in 2019 not only set a record as the warmest in North Carolina in more than 120 years years, but it blew that benchmark out of the water.

The statewide average temperature was 61.22 degrees, a full 2.7 degrees warmer than the average measured from 1901 to 2000, according to a blog post by state climatologist Kathie Dello and applied climatologist Corey Davis.

Last year North Carolina tied or broke 881 daily maximum temperature records, which was almost four times the number of broken or tied daily minimum records, the scientists reported.

May and September were among the top five warmest months, as was October. Remember October? Remember the sun searing your scalp at high noon? The Raleigh-Durham International Airport hit 100 degrees on Oct. 3, the first time the reporting station ever experienced its yearly high during that month, according to the National Weather Service..

So if it seems hotter to you, it’s not your imagination. In the past 30 years, North Carolina has recorded each of its five warmest years on record — 2019, 1990, 2017, 2016 and 1998 – along with 10 of its 30 warmest years.

None of those years were among North Carolina’s 30 coolest years on record.

The trees are shedding their blossoms in Nash Square in downtown Raleigh, Jan. 14, 2020. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

2020 has started with 14 consecutive days of above-average temperatures/ These are occurring  not only during the day, but at night as well. The low on Jan. 13 at RDU was 64. The average: 31 degrees.

Weather Underground, which provides historical data from the National Weather Service, shows that the daily average temperature –add the high and the low and divide by 2 — has been off the charts. Just yesterday, the daily average was 64.64 degrees. The historical “normal”: 41.

Dello and Davis delivered more bad news about our changing climate: In North Carolina, the climate is projected to warm anywhere from 4 to 10 degrees by the end of the century.

“Benchmarks like this record don’t just make for coffee-shop small talk; they’re the evidence in the case pointing to this global phenomenon hitting us here in our backyard. These numbers and records have actual consequences and translate into impacts – to our people and our livelihoods,” they wrote.

Environment

US House passes bill regulating PFAS; Dan Bishop, Mark Meadows among the no votes

US Rep. Richard Hudson of Concord was among three Republicans who voted for the PFAS Action Act. He was a bill co-sponsor. (Official photo)

The US House this morning passed the PFAS Action Act, 247-159, which would strengthen the nearly non-existent regulations for toxic perfluorinated compounds. PFAS are widespread in the environment, particularly in groundwater, surface water and drinking water. The compounds are found throughout North Carolina, where it has contaminated drinking water.

The bill had bipartisan support among the North Carolina delegation. Democrats David Price, G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams voted for the bill, as did Republicans George Holding, David Rouzer and Richard Hudson.

Hudson, who represents the Eighth Congressional District, successfully added two amendments to the bill, one that directs the EPA to investigate methods to prevent contamination by GenX of surface waters, including sources of drinking water; and another that makes communities impacted by GenX contamination  eligible for certain grants.

GenX is a type of perfluorinated compound.

“Until I know the science behind GenX, until I know exactly what safe levels and unsafe levels of exposure are, and until we can adequately clean up the exposure we’ve had in North Carolina, I am not going to be satisfied. While I understand it takes time to develop the scientific evidence to make these decisions, my neighbors are tired of waiting. We must act now,” Hudson wrote in a prepared statement.

Voting against the measure were Republicans Dan Bishop, Virginia Foxx, Greg Murphy, who is also a doctor; Mark Meadows, Tedd Budd and Patrick McHenry.

Rep. Mark Walker did not vote.

US Rep Dan Bishop was one of six Republicans who voted against the bill. Bishop represents the Ninth District, which includes parts of Cumberland and Bladen counties. Both those counties have PFAS contamination. (Official photo)

PFAS, of which there are thousands, are used in myriad products, including Teflon cookware, floor waxes, water- and stain-resistant upholstery and clothing, food packaging, and firefighting foams. Exposure to these compounds has been linked to several types of cancer, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy, low birth weight, and thyroid disorders.  

The bill is expansive. If it becomes law, it would enact regulations that the EPA so far as failed to do.

  • Designating PFAS has a hazardous substance, including hazardous air pollutants, which would make them subject to stronger regulations, including those regarding their storage and disposal;
  • Requiring the EPA to set enforceable drinking water standards; 
  • Requiring public water systems to test and monitor for the compounds (grants and other financial help would be available for cash-strapped or small systems);
  • Adding PFOA, PFAS, GenX and two other compounds to the Toxics Release Inventory (the TRI is a public database where companies report their discharges and emissions of certain chemicals);
  • Providing guidance on minimizing the use of firefighting foam; and
  • Expanding EPAs Safer Choice program to alert consumers to household products made with PFAS.

The measure now goes to the Senate. If it passes that chamber, President Trump could still veto it. Trump has threatened to veto a comprehensive national defense bill that contained PFAS provisions because he believes the cleanup levels are too onerous for the military to meet.

Environment

DEQ proposes permanent regulations for “forever chemicals” PFOA, PFOS

The Cape Fear River is contaminated with PFAS, some of it from groundwater seeps originating at the Chemours plant in north Bladen County. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

North Carolina could enact stronger environmental standards for one type of PFAS, also known as perfluorinated compounds, toxic chemicals that are widespread not only statewide but throughout the world.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is proposing a maximum concentration of 0.07 parts per billion for PFOS and for PFOA, known as “forever chemicals” because they persist in the human body and the environment for decades.

They are used in myriad products, including Teflon cookware, floor waxes, water- and stain-resistant upholstery and clothing, food packaging, and firefighting foams.

Exposure to these compounds, of which there are thousands, has been linked to several types of cancer, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy, low birth weight, and thyroid disorders.

DEQ will discuss the proposed standard at a meeting of the Environmental Management Commission’s Groundwater and Waste Committee today at 3 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Ground Floor Hearing Room of the Archdale Building, 512 N. Salisbury St., in Raleigh. For those who can’t attend, audio of the meeting will be streamed.

PFOA and PFOS are just two of the 47 chemicals and compounds for which DEQ is recommending permanent groundwater standards. Others include strontium, beryllium and many herbicides and pesticides.

Most of these chemicals already have an Interim Maximum Allowable Concentration, but IMACs, as they’re called, are only temporary.

The distinction between an IMAC and a permanent groundwater standard is important. Although both are legally enforceable, the establishment of an IMAC requires no public input. Under state law, anyone can petition DEQ for an IMAC, which is set solely by the director of the Division of Water Resources.

The procedure for establishing a permanent groundwater standard is more formal. It requires approval by the Environmental Management Commission, a public comment period, public hearing, and fiscal analysis.

PFOA has an Interim Maximum Allowable Concentration of 2 ppb. The proposed new permanent standard of 0.07 ppb is stronger.

New toxicological information prompted the change, according to DEQ documents.

For PFOS, there is no IMAC, so it’s subject to a different state law. That law says any chemical that isn’t naturally occurring and doesn’t have an interim standard — such as PFOS —  can’t exceed the “Practical Quantitation Limit.”

This limit is not based on health risks or exposure, but rather, laboratory considerations. It is legally defined as “the lowest concentration that can be reliably achieved among laboratories within specified limits of precision and accuracy by a given analytical method during routine laboratory analysis.”

The Practical Quantitation Limit for PFOS is 0.002 ppb. The proposed groundwater standard is weaker.

Other states that have standards or guidance for PFOA and PFOS:

  • Connecticut set a “private well action level” at 0.07 ppb for either compound or the sum of both.
  • Minnesota established a “health-based value” of 0.035 ppb for PFOA and 0.027 ppb for PFOS
  • Vermont passed an enforceable standard of  0.02 ppb.

If the EMC ultimately approves these standards, the decision could affect the degree and cost of cleanup levels at and around the Chemours plant, where PFOA and PFOS, as well as other similar compounds persist in the groundwater and surface water.

A fiscal analysis provided by DEQ notes that the strengthening standards for PFOA “could potentially increase remediation costs” at sites where it is the primary contaminants. But those costs “would be either fully or partially offset by the potential savings” from a weaker standard for PFOS.

Last month, Chemours submitted to DEQ a proposed groundwater Corrective Action Plan to reduce the contamination at and around the plant. Under a Consent Order, the company must  Within the 119-page document, Chemours says that it cannot meet the Practical Quantitation Limit ,in part because given the current technology, it would cost billions of dollars to remediate such an extensive area of groundwater contamination — at least 70 square miles or the equivalent of three Chapel Hills.

Groundwater on plant property became contaminated primarily through leaks and spills; off-site, the contamination occurred through atmospheric deposition. Contaminants entered the air through the stacks, rode on the wind and fell to the surface where they entered the groundwater.

Next, the Groundwater and Waste Management Committee can send DEQ’s recommendations to the full Environmental Management Commission. In turn, the EMC can then hold public hearings and a formal public comment period as early as April.

 

 

Environment

Charah appeals judge’s ruling on coal ash disposal in Chatham County

A court case about the practice of burying coal ash in old clay mines is dragging on into its fifth year, raising questions about where Duke will deposit some of its 80 million tons of the material.

Charah/Green Meadow is asking a Mecklenburg Superior Court judge to reverse a decision issued last month by the Office of Administrative Hearings that prohibits coal ash from being deposited in unexcavated areas of old clay mines.

In court documents filed on Dec. 27, Charah attorneys argued that Administrative Law Judge Melissa Lassiter wrongly invalidated state permits that had allowed the company to deposit coal ash in these areas of the old Brickhaven Mine. The 7.2 million tons of ash — encompassing 5.1 million cubic yards — were used as structural fill in both the excavated areas and in new portions of the mine, which is near Moncure in Chatham County.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality had issued the permits to the Kentucky-based company in 2015. The ash came from Duke Energy’s Sutton and Riverbend plants as part of the utility’s full excavation of unlined ash basins. However, Duke Energy is not part of Charah’s lawsuit. DEQ has not filed an appeal.

Lassiter’s ruling also covered the Colon Mine in Lee County, but no ash has been deposited there.

Charah disputed Lassiter’s interpretation of the Coal Ash Management Act. State lawmakers passed CAMA, as it’s known, in 2014, after the Dan River disaster, and amended it in 2016. CAMA was intended to prevent Duke or any public utility from building new — or expanding the existing — unlined coal ash basins or impoundments in North Carolina. Since the structural fill is in a lined cell, and Charah is not a public utility, the company argued that its activities at Brickhaven are not violating the act.

Charah also objected to Lassiter’s analysis of the Brickhaven engineering plans. Lassiter wrote in her ruling that the height of the ash could reach 260 to 320 feet. Charah “failed to justify how the reclaimed land at those heights was a reasonable rehabilitation of the land,” Lassiter wrote.

But that elevation, Charah said, is not above the surface of the ground, but above mean sea level. Although mean sea level varies within the counties, in Sanford it is 358 feet. Moncure lies 217 feet above mean sea level.

The fill sites are lined, although groundwater monitoring from last summer indicated that several contaminants exceeded state standards: barium, chloride, chromium, cobalt, vanadium and total dissolved solids. Known as TDS, total dissolved solids are a general indicator of water quality.

Seven of the eight monitoring wells detected exceedances. Levels of chromium peaked at 17 times the state groundwater standard; cobalt levels were more than six times higher. Vanadium concentrations ranged from 25 to 45 times higher than state standards.

The case began shortly after DEQ issued the permits, in June 2015. Within a month, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump and Environmentalee had filed a contested case with the Office of Administrative Hearings against the NC Department of Environmental Quality over the permits.

The groups argued that since Charah was putting the material in unexcavated areas, those portions of the mine were tantamount to landfills. In that case, the groups said, the unexcavated areas should be considered solid waste landfills, which operate under stricter regulations.

Originally Lassiter dismissed the case. But since then, DEQ, Charah and environmental groups have filed a series of appeals, culminating in the state Appellate Court sending the case back to the OAH. This time, Lassiter reversed herself.

Therese Vick, research director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, told Policy Watch that Duke should not move its ash offsite, but place it instead in above-ground storage on utility property. “Charah needs to leave these communities alone,” she said, adding she’s still waiting for additional information from state regulators. “DEQ needs to answer the questions we’ve asked regarding keeping the Brickhaven permit open, and any proposed permit modifications.”

While the ruling focused on Brickhaven and Colon, it could have far-reaching ramifications in Duke’s massive coal ash cleanup. If unexcavated areas of clay mines are off-limits, that could reduce the available acreage for the utility to place the 80 million tons of ash, required under a recent settlement with state regulators and environmental groups.

 



2019 12 27 BREDL Lee Summons and Petition (Text)

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

This week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. A lost decade: Ten ways in which conservative policies have grievously harmed North Carolina (Commentary)


At the dawn of the new decade, not everything is worse in North Carolina than it was ten years ago when conservative ideologues assumed power. For some pockets of the population, the past decade has brought a measure of growth, expanded rights and enhanced prosperity.

For the state as a whole, however, this optimistic assessment clearly does not apply. Thanks to the political Right’s abandonment of the state’s historic commitment to progress via intentional public solutions, North Carolina has wasted a decade that it could have spent making important headway in a raft of important areas at a crucial historical juncture. Here are ten key missed opportunities and wrong turns: [Read more…]

2. DEQ, Duke Energy, community groups strike deal on largest coal ash cleanup in US

Settlement requires utility to excavate 80 million tons of ash from remaining impoundments

In an historic agreement, Duke Energy will remove coal ash from unlined pits at its six plants – Allen, Belews Creek, Cliffside/Rogers, Marshall, Mayo and Roxboro – which will finally cut off this source of groundwater and surface water contamination near those communities.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality, Duke Energy and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented community groups in litigation against the utility, all announced the details of the settlement Thursday. [Read more…]

3. As voter ID falls again, Republicans are still confusing predator with prey (Commentary)

Say one thing for Congressman Dan Bishop and his nihilistic pals in the Republican Party: They see the farce in New Year’s resolutions.

Resolutions come in shiny and new, be-tuxed and coiffed, and scuttle out the club’s emergency exit in the mid-morning light, face a mess. So why bother?

Perhaps Bishop thought to himself, ‘Why bother?’ before issuing his Dec. 27 Tweet. Why bother with the truth now? Why bother with a genuine position now? Why bother? [Read more…]

4. The New Year should be pivotal for public education in North Carolina

In 2020, the conversation about public education in North Carolina will undoubtedly be shaped by the WestEd report, which punctuated the end of 2019 with a big exclamation point.

WestEd, an independent nonprofit research group, found that North Carolina must spend nearly $7 billion over the next eight years of meet its state constitutional obligation to provide its children with a “sound, basic education.”

The group was directed by Superior Court Judge David Lee to research the state’s public education system and bring back recommendations to ensure all students receive a quality education. [Read more…]

5. From climate change to coal ash: Five environmental stories to follow in the New Year

CLIMATE CHANGE

Remember 350 parts per million? In 2008, author Bill McKibben christened his environmental group 350.org because 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide was thought to be the limit of the “safe” amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Within five years, we blew past 350 and careened to 400. In May 2019, Planet Earth, the Only Known Viable Place to Live in the Universe, hit 415.26 ppm, a historic high.

What does that number mean? The people of eastern North Carolina can tell you: Inundated farms, wastewater treatment plants spewing sewage into the streets. Sunny day flooding in Wilmington. More frequent devastating hurricanes: Dorian, Florence, Matthew. [Read more….]

6. Durham immigrant workers paid back more than $13,000 in stolen wages


For the third time this year a group of largely undocumented Latinx immigrant workers in the Triangle has successfully pressured an employer to repay stolen wages through a combination of protests, calls from supporters and legal tactics.

Just before Christmas, 20 immigrant former employees of the Durham construction cleanup company HomeHitters Inc received a settlement of $13,352 after several months after launching protests of the company’s owner. The workers had completed their work in February and March of 2019.

7. Weekly Radio Interviews and commentaries:

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8. Weekly Editorial Cartoon: