With Colombian roots, a Philadelphia, Pa.-childhood, and more than a decade in Florida, Sandra has come to see the world as her home. She served as AV's North Carolina campaign coordinator and driving force behind our Red, White & Water campaign from 2007 to 2013.
Sara Behnke loves her home, Mountain Island Lake. But about 10 miles northwest of Charlotte, N.C., the lake, which supplies drinking water to more than 800,000 residents of the Charlotte metro area, is threatened by two coal ash ponds at Duke Energy’s recently shuttered Riverbend plant.
“Never fall for someone who says the right things. Fall for someone who does the right things.” I read that quote this morning on Facebook right after I read this article in The Charlotte Observer: “NC SUES 12 DUKE ENERGY PLANTS.” The line that really hit me in the gut was Erin Culbert, the Duke Energy spokesperson, saying, “State regulators are requesting more data to ensure waters of the state are well protected.” REALLY? Can she really believe her own statement? And do they really think we are dumb enough to buy that?
You can read The Charlotte Observer article, but the upshot is that the public strongly denounced the state’s proposed “do-nothing” settlement. Almost 5,000 people submitted comments, almost all saying that the settlement doesn’t go far enough to ensuring our water is safe from coal ash waste.
So basically, the public reaction’s was….
And I can only imagine that Duke Energy’s is…
Watch this space for more to come. After all, the state has now filed an injunction for all coal-fired power plants in the state.
According to N.C. DENR Secretary John Skvarla, if you love clean air and water, this is your dress code.
Out of the many things that were targeted in the North Carolina legislature, water quality took a huge hit. Not only did the state budget call for the consolidation of the Division of Water Quality and Division of Water Resources, it slashed the two agencies combined budget by more than 12 percent.
And there is the curious case of John Skvarla, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources who has derided his own agency as an “eco-enforcer” before he came onboard.
At a luncheon for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, he claimed to not have a position on climate change since he’s not a scientist, and stated that if environmentalists had their way, “we would live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”
Advocates, national and regional experts, and concerned citizens from across the Southeast will gather together for two days to learn more about toxic coal ash and how we can protect our communities and waters from this toxic waste.
Citizens converged in Raleigh yesterday to demand that political leadership begin to address the challenge of climate change. North Carolina House Rep. Pricey Harrison reminds the crowd that the state legislature belongs to the people. She recently re-introduced the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act that would a) ban the burning of mountaintop-removal coal in the state, b) put into place comprehensive rules for the storage and disposal of coal ash waste, c) place a moratorium on the construction of new coal plants, and d) divest state pension funds from fossil fuels.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finally proposed a range of options to regulate waste water from power plants which are responsible for half of the nation’s water pollution. While the public comment period has yet to begin, a public hearing is schedule for July 9th in Washington, DC.
Below is a press statement from Appalachian Voices and a number of allied organizations.
After 30 years of inaction, EPA finally proposes plans for power plant water pollution includes options protecting waters from toxic pollution as well as weaker standards that maintain the status quo
Washington, D.C. – The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a number of regulatory options late last Friday night, known as steam electric effluent limitation guidelines for power plants, two of which will finally clean up water pollution from hundreds of power plants.
Power plant water discharges are filled with toxic pollution such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium – heavy metals that can cause neurological and developmental damage, cause harm in utero, damage internal organs and cause cancer. Power plants are the biggest sources of water pollution in the country, yet the EPA has not reviewed regulations for this industry in more than 30 years. To address this unacceptable delay, environmental groups filed a lawsuit in 2010 to force the EPA to take action and regulate this dirty industry.
Thallium was once used as rat poison. Now DENR is suing Progress Energy for Thallium polluting the French Broad River from its Asheville power plant.
Last week, there was concern that the U.S. Senate budget resolution would end up containing measures to decrease funding for initiatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency such as the release of guidelines for coal ash disposal and rules to ensure states are following water quality standards. Thanks to good Americans like yourself speaking up, the Senate budget remained free of dirty water amendments.
While the budget resolution is non-binding, and the Senate Appropriations Committee decides how funding gets allocated later in the process, the resolution send a strong message regarding the Senate’s priorities. Unfortunately, one of the more controversial amendments that did pass was in support of building the Keystone XL pipeline.
While the Senate backed down on loading up the budget resolution with dirty water clauses, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources stepped and up and decided to take legal action against Progress Energyfor the release of toxic heavy metals from their Asheville plant into the French Broad River.
Western North Carolina Alliance, Sierra Club, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy had filed a notice of intent to sue Progress Energy for violating the Clean Water Act for unpermitted seeps into the French Broad River. It appears DENR took notice and is now taking up their own case against Progress Energy. DENR is seeking injunctive relief and demanding Progress Energy solve the issue in lieu of the state seeking monetary damages.
Help Prevent a Clean Water Upset (Picture by mvongrue, hosted by Flickr)
UPDATE: The Senate Budget Resolution passed without any of the amendments mentioned below. Victory!
As most of you know, between the federal House of Representatives and the Senate, the Senate is usually the level-headed older brother of the family and tends to be a more deliberative legislative body. But this month the Senate decided it wanted to shake things up a bit by creating a little March Madness of its own.
The Senate is going through a seemingly insane process known on Capitol Hill as a vote-a-rama to reach a deal on a final Senate budget resolution. Senate leadership is allowing any number of amendments to be presented and voted on — whatever they can get done in 50 hours.
While all the amendments have yet to be presented, several of them take aim at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to do its job, which is to protect our air, water and public health. Some of the amendments could stop the EPA from:
- Making sure states are complying with and improving water quality standards in accordance to the Clean Water Act.
- Creating national standards for how coal ash, the toxic waste produced by coal-burning for electricity, is disposed and stored.
- Restoring critical Clean Water Act protections to streams, wetlands and drinking water standards.
Duke Energy announced it would retire the Riverbend Power Plant in April, two years ahead of schedule. A good headline, but water is still being put at risk.
Don’t like what people are saying about you? Change the conversation!
Duke Energy has gotten a ton of mileage for their decision to retire or convert some of their older, more inefficient power plants in the Tarheel State. It’s environmentally-friendly after all – recycling news stories!
And you can create a whole new news story by moving your timeline. Duke Energy announced today they will be retiring their octogenarian coal plants, Riverbend in Gaston County and Buck in Rowan County this April, nearly two years ahead of schedule.
And while we are happy that Mountain Island Lake and the Yadkin River will be suffering from less pollution from toxic heavy metals like arsenic, selenium, chromium and so on, could it be that Duke Energy is trying to distract from the PR crisis they are currently facing around their leaking coal ash impoundments?
On top of that, Duke University scientists publishing reports that seem to back up many of these claims. So while Duke’s announcement is indeed good news for water, we need to continue to hold Duke and Progress accountable. There is more to be done.
So the world did not end today, as much of the discussion around the end of Mayan calendar seemed to suggest. But it might have seemed like that to the residents of Harriman, Tn. exactly four year ago today, when an earthen dam at a nearby power plant failed, and 1 billion gallons of coal ash waste flooded across fields and farmland and oozed into nearby rivers. The amount spilled is enough to fill 1,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Though no one was directly hurt or killed, the catastrophe at the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant surely devastated lives. People got sick from the fumes coming off the ash and had to boil their water. Property values plunged, compelling people to sell their homes and property to TVA. Dangerous heavy metals were released into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River.
It was the first time a majority Americans learned what coal ash was and how dangerous it could be. People were shocked to know that a waste product from burning coal was most often dumped into unlined pits behind earthen dams. More shocking is the fact that, in the absence of federal standards coal ash — laced with heavy metals, known carcinogens and other toxins — is less regulated than household waste.
In the Southeast, we know there are 450 of these impoundments holding back 118 billion gallons of coal ash. Not only is there the risk of a dam breaking, there is the more insidious pollution of our waterways. (See if there is one near you).
I will never forget the day Donna Lisenby, Coal Campaign Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance, John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper and I traveled to “ground zero” and paddled to where the Emory River ceased being a river and began to look like a sludge pit. It looked like the end of the world.
Little has happened since the TVA spill. Clean-up that was supposed to take a few weeks still isn’t completed. TVA has decided to allow “natural recovery” to take place, which basically means TVA will stop trying to dredge the river and see if Mother Nature might be able to finish the job with the remaining 9% of the ash still left.
For how large coal ash impoundments can be, they are sure hard to spot.
For example, there are two large earthen dams full of coal ash just north of Charlotte near Mountain Island Lake. Can you spot them?
(Answer: They’re on that long ridgetop to the left of the plant.)
Since Duke Energy is probably not going to place yellow neon signs near the impoundments to alert the public to the dangers that these dams may cause to groundwater or public safety anytime soon, we did the next best thing. Working with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and other partner organizations like Southern Environmental Law Center and NC Conservation Network, we have helped create Southeastcoalash.org. With just five key strokes (your zip code) you can see where coal ash impoundments are hiding in plain sight near you.
At Appalachian Voices, we strive to connect communities, families and individuals to their decision-makers to help them protect their land, air and water. We see ourselves in service to those people to help them achieve their goals of providing a good quality for themselves and others.
The Clean Water Act, which is 40 years old today, is very similar. The landmark legislation fundamentally changed the nation’s relationship to its waterways. Going into the 1970s, our waterways were in terrible shape. Only one-third of our waterways were fit for swimming and fishing. Chemicals were allowed to spew into our rivers and streams. Time magazine had written Lake Erie’s obituary. The Cuyahoga River in Northeast Ohio was so choked with pollution that it had burst into flames several times over a decade.
Citizens from across the country, realizing that we needed to do something, and do something quickly, took to the streets and demanded change. A slew of new environmental protections came into being, including the Clean Water Act in 1972.