Amy Brown is a mother of two living in the small community of Belmont, N.C. One of her neighbors is the G.G. Allen Steam Station, a facility owned by Duke Energy that includes a coal-fired power plant and two massive coal ash pits. This spring, she got a letter from the utility warning her not to use her tap water for drinking or cooking because of contamination, one of nearly 300 people around the state to get such letters. She and her family are now living day to day on bottled water.
Watch this short video about Amy’s story:
Toxins found in coal ash like arsenic and selenium can have dangerous health consequences when they leak into water supplies. And a study out this month shows that coal ash can be five times more radioactive than average U.S. soil.
Since the catastrophe in February 2014 that spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River near the border of North Carolina and Virginia, there’s been much foot-dragging and finger-pointing between Duke, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and state lawmakers about what to do with the massive amounts of coal ash sitting in leaking pits around the state.
But, due largely to public pressure, some progress has been made. A state law passed last year requires, among other things, the cleanup of four sites that pose a high threat. And Duke recently proposed cleaning up three additional sites that its studies showed are priorities for excavation.
So it was an Orwellian turn of events when DENR asked the courts to disallow Duke’s plan. DENR is the very entity entrusted with defending public health and the environment from pollution.
Then again, this is a so-called “new and improved” agency under the McCrory administration, aiming to serve large corporations as its primary “customers.” As Appalachian Voices’ Amy Adams noted in an op-ed in the News & Observer, DENR is contorting its own mission statement to avoid responsibility. It says it applies science to policy but refuses to see the facts. It says it wants to be a “resource of invaluable public assistance,” and yet refuses to assist the people living near the three sites Duke is willing to clean up.
Earlier this week, the courts rejected DENR’s attempt to block the cleanup. That’s a loud voice joining the statewide chorus of citizens like Amy Brown, public interest groups like Appalachian Voices, and many others calling on DENR to do its job and fix this problem.