Environment, Trump Administration

North Carolina’s environmental boss, EPA Region 4 administrator Trey Glenn indicted in Alabama

EPA Region 4 Administrator Trey Glenn, center, at an information and listening session about emerging compounds like GenX, held in Fayetteville earlier this year. Left is DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and right is Peter Grevatt of the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

This past summer, Trey Glenn, the EPA administrator over Region 4, which includes North Carolina, visited Fayetteville for a listening session on GenX and other emerging contaminants. “It’s a great time to be an American. It’s a great time to work at the EPA,” Glenn said in his tone-deaf opening remarks.

It’s uncertain how long Glenn’s great time at the agency will last. This week an Alabama grand jury indicted Glenn — a Trump administration appointee — on state ethics charges. The allegations stem from his previous work with a law firm that helped a coal company block an EPA cleanup of contamination in a low-income Black neighborhood in north Birmingham. The company, Drummond, was among the parties responsible for the pollution.

Al.com, a paper of record in Alabama, has an excellent story with extensive background on Glenn’s misdeeds. A Mother Jones piece also contains juicy details.

Al.com reported that Glenn and former Alabama Environmental Commissioner Scott Phillips worked in tandem to derail the polluted communities’ efforts to compel the coal company to clean up the contramination.

From Al.com:

From 2014 through 2017, Glenn and Phillips worked with those defendants [the coal company] to oppose the EPA efforts, court exhibits and trial testimony showed. One exhibit in that trial showed that Phillips proposed to “hijack” a north Birmingham community organization that had been working with the EPA to clean up neighborhoods there. During his testimony, Phillips said that by “hijack” he meant “work with.”

Among Glenn’s previous scandals: his financial involvement with Big Sky Environmental, responsible for the so-called “poop train.”

Again from Al.com:

Big Sky Environmental made headlines this year after it accepted human feces from New York for disposal at its Adamsville landfill. A train that delivered that refuse stunk up the surrounding community and after national news coverage became known as the “poop train.”

Mother Jones reported that the EPA didn’t respond to requests for comment about Glenn’s future at the agency. The great times, though, could soon be over.


After Hurricane Florence, derelict boat-owners left their mess for taxpayers to clean up

The US Coast Guard has identified 383 abandoned boats that contain hazardous materials requiring removal. But without specific funding to salvage them, the boats are allowed to sink after the hazardous waste is removed. (Photo: NC General Assembly presentation)

Nautical scofflaws who abandoned their boats before Hurricane Florence might have committed the perfect crime.

Lawmakers on the Joint Oversight Committee on Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources today were bewildered not only by the audacity of the derelict boat-owners, but also by the absurdity of the process: Once the boats are raised and their hazardous material removed, they are allowed to sink again. And the owners disappear without consequences.

Under the federal government’s Emergency Support Function 10, states receive disaster funding to help them control and remove actual or potential releases of oil and hazardous materials from abandoned watercraft. But EFS 10, as it’s known for short, contains no money to remove the vessels. So contractors lift the boats, remove the toxic material, and then let them sink again.

Only under Emergency Support Function 3 can the boats be hauled away for disposal. And for reasons unknown, North Carolina doesn’t participate in the ESF 3, said Capt. Christian Gillikin of the Atlantic Coast Marine Group, a private company that provides towing and salvage assistance.

“We should ask for EFS 3,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican. “To leave vessels in water is crazy. We have enough pollution in the water to begin with.”

If the state did enroll in EFS 3, then federal funding could help pay salvage companies to dispose of the boats without re-submerging them.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence escorted this abandoned boat to a stranger’s garage.

The expense to raise a boat, remove its hazardous materials, allow it to sink, then return later to remove it, is roughly $395 per foot. For a 32-foot boat, the entire process would cost $12,640. But if the boat could be disposed of immediately after the hazards were removed, it would cost about half that amount, Gillikin said.

In a state-wide survey, the US Coast Guard identified 383 derelict vessels containing potentially hazardous materials, such as fuel, oil, LP gas, solvents, acid and lead batteries and flammable signaling flares. Of those, 265 were located after Hurricane Florence.

The long-term environmental damage of these abandoned vessels can be significant. Routine garbage — beer cans, potato chip bags, plastic silverware – is not removed because it’s not deemed hazardous. So that detritus enters the water, breaks down into microscopic pieces, which aquatic life can ingest. Or in the case of plastic bags, turtles and marine mammals can become entangled in them and suffocate.

Fiberglass sailboats “delaminate,” shedding their skin and polluting the water in the process.

“The trash breaks up into little pieces,” Gillikin said. “It’s harder to deal with and costs more money to salvage.”

Abandoned watercraft lurking just under the surface also present hazards to boats — whose owners care about them – as they navigate through sounds and channels.

“Is there a way to identify the boat owners?” McElraft said.

An ID number, similar to those found on vehicles, can trace a boat to its ne’er-do-well owner. But motivated derelict boat owners often post bogus registration numbers, Gillikin said.

Absent state and federal regulations, local jurisdictions would have to pass ordinances to penalize the owners. Town of Beaufort has an ordinance requiring boat owners to remove their vessels and buoys from Taylor Creek. However some of those owners merely relocate their boats to other waterways within Carteret County. “It then becomes a problem for the county,” Gillikin said.

And even if the owners are found, local law enforcement would have to go through the court system to recoup the fees.

The purpose of the oversight committee meeting was to listen to presentations, not to vote. However, it could appropriate up to $50,000 to assess and develop a scope of work for removal and disposal of the boats. To actually remove and haul all 383 identified boats to salvage would cost roughly $4 million.

Lawmakers will likely introduce legislation to require all state-registered vessels to carry minimum liability insurance to cover salvage and recovery costs.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican, said, “We need to put the responsibility on the owner of the boat.”


To concede or not concede? Wade reaction to loss echoes history

When Michael Garrett upset State Senator Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) in last week’s election, it was by a fairly slim margin – less than a full percentage point, just 763 votes in complete but unofficial results.

Those familiar with Wade’s career were immediately reminded of Wade’s last narrow loss – and wondered how she would respond to this one.

Sen. Trudy Wade (Photo: NC General Assembly)

Back in 2004 Wade narrowly lost her seat on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to Democrat John Parks. The margin: just 242 votes. The seat was the first Wade ever held – one she won after changing her party affiliation to Republican after several failed attempts as a Democrat.

She contested the election, holding onto the seat for another 18 months as she appealed her case all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court. The court ultimately dismissed Wade’s case, but the extended battle denied Parks a substantial portion of his first term.

Fears of history repeating seemed assuaged last week, when Wade conceded the election in a statement to local TV news station Fox 8:

“It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Guilford County for the last six years. I appreciate the support and votes I received during the campaign. I am proud of the accomplishments that have been made in the North Carolina Legislature over my three terms.

“I look forward to returning to full time work with my four legged friends.”

Garret responded with a statement that thanked Wade for her service:

“I remain humbled and honored that the people of the 27th District have entrusted me with their voice in the state Senate. This was a spirited campaign about important issues facing our families and communities, from investing in our public schools and teachers to making healthcare more accessible and affordable. I am ready to get to work. I want to thank Senator Trudy Wade for her service to Guilford County and the State of North Carolina. Public service is not an easy endeavor and it is not done without sacrifice, and I wish her the best.”

Then, in a statement to a different TV news station, Wade denied she was conceding and called Garrett a liar.

It’s not yet clear whether Wade will accept the final canvassing of the votes or if this loss, like Wade’s last, could be long and hard fought.


MVP Southgate officially files with feds to build natural gas pipeline; DEQ joins chorus of opponents questioning its necessity

This inset show the portion of the MVP Southgate natural gas pipeline that would burrow beneath the Dan River. The turquoise arrow in the center of the screen shows the river. The two other turquoise arrows indicates the locations of the existing Transco natural gas pipelines. Green dotted areas are wetlands; yellow areas are temporary access roads or work areas. Red is the route of the proposed pipeline, and orange is the study corridor. (Map: MVP Southgate, arrows added by NCPW)

Now that MVP Southgate has submitted its official 582-page application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a new natural gas pipeline in North Carolina, opponents are increasing their pressure on state and local officials to stop the project.

MVP Southgate would be an extension of the larger Mountain Valley Pipeline project, now on hold after an appellate court recently vacated several federal permits for stream crossings. Should MVP Southgate be constructed, it would transport fracked gas originating in northwestern West Virginia, through southern Virginia and then bore for more than 40 miles into North Carolina, where it would enter near Eden in Rockingham County and end in Haw River in Alamance County. MVP Southgate submitted its filing on Nov. 6.

Thousands of North Carolinians, including environmental groups and even the Alamance County Commissioners, have submitted public comments opposing the project. The reasons are voluminous: The pipeline would cross private land, including centuries-old family farms, that would be subject to eminent domain; it would present safety issues for residents in the “blast zone” — the area vulnerable to loss of life and property damage in the unlikely, but not unheard of event of an explosion.

The pipeline would permanently and temporarily destroy sensitive ecosystems by crossing wetlands and streams and deforesting parts of the right-of-way along the route.. It would carve a path under the Dan River, using a horizontal drilling method that could spill chemicals and mud into the waterway. It would hug the Haw River, jeopardizing sensitive buffers that filter pollution and provide wildlife habitat.

And on a global scale, MVP Southgate, like its counterpart in eastern North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, would leak methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. (The governor’s executive order on climate change, which sets goals for clean energy and reductions in carbon dioxide, doesn’t mention methane from natural gas pipelines.)

All of this for a project that is almost certainly unnecessary.

We remain unconvinced that the Southgate project is necessary Click To Tweet

Opponents have long maintained that central and western North Carolina are adequately served by existing pipelines that crisscross beneath the region. And detailed maps of the MVP Southgate project that accompany the filing often show where it would parallel the Transco pipeline.

In a Nov. 5 letter to FERC, the NC Department of Environmental Quality wrote that, “as of this date we have been unable to determine whether there exists an overarching need and demand … for the Southgate project as proposed. We remain unconvinced that the Southgate project is necessary.” (Scroll to the end of the story to read the entire letter.)

According to DEQ’s figures, even accounting for the area’s population growth, MVP Southgate would increase availability of natural gas by 100 percent — far exceeding the needs of the region. Other discrepancies prompted DEQ to ask FERC to conduct an independent review of the data.

This chart, included in a letter from DEQ to federal officials, shows that the MVP Southgate Project would create an excess of natural gas in North Carolina.

In its strongly worded letter, signed by Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman, DEQ also said that the federal standard for approval “protects only MVP’s interests.”

Behind MVP Southgate is consortium of publicly traded corporations with Orwellian names that say nothing about what they really do: NextEra, EQT and WGL and RGC Midstream. The familiar Con Edison is in on the deal, and should a sale go through, Dominion Energy, the major owner of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be constructed in eastern North Carolina.

The project has already been modified since its inception. Most notably, a proposed natural gas compressor station near Eden has been scrapped. The diameter of the pipeline in North Carolina has also decreased from 36 inches to 24 inches, although there is no indication the pressure to transport the gas has decreased.

We will continue to work with state agencies and impacted communities to prevent this unnecessary project from impacting our land, air, and water quality,” says Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper with Haw River Assembly. “The Haw River currently faces industrial and sediment pollution from many sources, and adding a fracked gas pipeline would further degrade this threatened watershed, which is a water source for nearly one million people downstream.”

Even before the official filing MVP Southgate and its contractors have clashed with local landowners along the route. Land agents have reportedly trespassed, bullied, harassed and coerced private property owners to submit to surveys of their land. The Haw River Assembly said MVP Southgate has indicated it plans to work with local law enforcement to obtain a court order to survey parcels that landowners have denied access for the project.

Dominion and Duke Energy used similar tactics to access land along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. However, after several appearances in federal court, Marvin Winstead, who owns land in Nash County, has still fended off the surveyors.

MVP Southgate plans to operate the pipeline by late 2020. However, that timeline is ambitious. Last week’s filing with FERC triggers formal environmental reviews and public hearings. The consortium will need numerous federal and state permits. It’s also likely that environmental groups will sue to halt the project.

DEQ Letter to FERC by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

Commentary, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Now what? Five election takeaways for North Carolinians

The 2018 election is finally and mercifully over and, as was noted in this space yesterday, now is no time for progressives to rest on their laurels. Having taken some promising initial steps in the struggle to overcome Trumpism and build a better, fairer, freer and more sustainable nation and planet, now is the time for caring and thinking people to redouble their efforts and turn their electoral energy toward the cause of governance.

Here in North Carolina, this will remain an enormous challenge. Despite important progressive victories in several races, the state legislature and congressional delegation both remain absurdly and illegally gerrymandered and highly unrepresentative of the state’s closely divided and increasingly urban and diverse voter population. Despite being headed for victory in the combined popular vote in congressional and legislative races (the Democrats only ran candidates in 12 of 13 U.S. House races), North Carolina Democrats remain mired in minority status.

That said, last night’s results offer some significant glimmers of hope for the future. Here are five initial takeaways…

[Read more…

2. Black sheriffs make history in sweep of seven larges NC counties

While Congressional and General Assembly races got most of the election headlines this week, history was quietly being made in a series of law enforcement races.

On Tuesday the state’s seven largest counties – Buncombe, Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake – all elected Black men sheriff.

Five – Buncombe, Cumberland, Guilford, Durham, Forsyth – did so for the first time.

In Pitt County — the state’s 14th largest — voters elected Paula Dance as their first Black female sheriff.

[Read more…]

3. A requiem for the GOP supermajorities and other post-election thoughts

Ever been to a funeral where no one had anything nice to say about the dearly departed?

“Well, they certainly were bellicose,” we might say through gritted teeth.

That’s the feeling today, with North Carolina now weeks away from burying the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly.

North Carolina voters handed down a good many split decisions in these elections, which like it or not, were always going to be skewed to the right by GOP gerrymandering. But in the legislature, Republicans may be surprised by their losses today, losses which, presuming the final vote counts are upheld, would break the GOP supermajorities in both the state House and Senate. [Read more…]

4. Midterm election proves to be Independence Day for NC courts

The North Carolina courts have a lot to celebrate after Tuesday night – voter turnout in statewide judicial races was higher than the past three midterm elections, voters elected the first openly LGBTQ candidate in any statewide political race, and there was a rejection of lawmakers’ efforts to politicize the judicial branch.

“No doubt this is an encouraging sign,” said Douglas Keith, counsel in the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program. “The public’s broad rebuke of these efforts and the bipartisan public officials’ rebuke of these efforts will hopefully be kept in the back of the minds of anyone who thinks of revisiting efforts to politicize the judicial branch.”

[Read more…]

**BONUS READ: NC voters pass 4 constitutional amendments; lame-duck session looming

5. Half-truths and sometimes no truth at all: Public debates pollution limits at Enviva’s wood pellet plant in Hamlet

About a quarter-mile off NC 177 in Richmond County, just north of Hamlet, skeletons of buildings gouge the horizon, as bulldozers coerce the dirt into mounds and flats. This is the site of Enviva’s new wood pellet production plant, its fourth in North Carolina. Logs timbered from area forests are chopped up, dried and made into pellets that resemble dog kibble. Those pellets then begin their long journey, far from their birthplace in North Carolina forests.

At the nearby CSX terminal, they are transported by diesel train to the port of Wilmington, then loaded on ships powered by sulfur-spewing, low-grade bunker fuel that are bound for the United Kingdom and the European Union. Upon arrival, the pellets are again transported by rail or truck to power plants, where companies, benefiting from large government subsidies, burn them instead of coal.

Every step of wood pellet production carries significant environmental and climate consequences…

[Read more…]


6. Editorial Cartoon: The Real ‘Wave’