Posts Tagged ‘Coal Ash’

About gray matter: One artist’s experience with the health impacts of coal ash

Friday, September 5th, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note }Today’s guest to the Front Porch is artist Caroline Armijo, who has seen too many friends and family die from cancer she suspects was caused by a toxic coal ash pit in her North Carolina community. This originally appeared on Caroline’s website.

Caroline Armijo lives in Stokes County and is speaking out about the health threat of Duke Energy's massive coal ash pit in her community.

Caroline Armijo lives in Stokes County and is speaking out about the health threat of Duke Energy’s massive coal ash pit in her community.

“Gray Matter” is the first piece I created for a series I started in 2010. I began working on Gray Matter a couple of days before my friend was about to undergo her second brain surgery of the summer. I was worried. I promised her that I would pray for her. And I did. Day and night. It felt like an obsession. And my faith was faltering. A couple of weeks earlier, I had prayed all week for Hansel, my childhood neighbor, who never recovered from a biopsy on his brain tumor. A few days later, my aunt’s sister died of a rare form of leukemia within ten days of learning she had it. I was overwhelmed.

The next morning I woke to a story on the radio about the fish in the Potomac River. I thought, “It’s the water.” And a simple web search lead me to discovering the connection between coal ash and cancer. It also led me to Dennis Lemly, a professor at Wake Forest University, who has been studying the fish population for thirty years. He has written countless reports and pleas to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Obviously, fish are an important look at how water impacts the human health system. But no one was making an obvious connection that, yes, in fact, the people in the community are sick. So I emailed and told him.

In my five years in Washington D.C., I have only known three people with cancer, and only one of those have died. In the last six months alone, I have known five people who have died from my hometown in Stokes County, North Carolina.
Coal ash gives you a one in fifty chance of getting cancer. Unfortunately, the statistics seem to be much worse at home than estimated in the published reports. When I discussed this with a friend from home, she said that her prayer group included two people with cancer out of four.

Maybe I feel so strongly about this after watching my dad’s twin sister, Cheryl, fight a courageous battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She passed away in April 2006, after I moved to D.C. the previous year. I was six hours away from my family. It was one of the hardest things I have ever dealt with.

A couple of years later, her neighbor Jackie, from directly across the street, died of the exact same kind of cancer. They could see each other’s houses from their front windows. Cancer is not contagious. What are the chances of that happening?

"Gray Matter," by Caroline Armijo.

“Gray Matter,” by Caroline Armijo.

I did what I do when I don’t know what else to do. I began working on an art project that ultimately became Gray Matter. I had partially excavated/destroyed the book, Your God Is Too Small, a couple of years ago; it was in two pieces and looked like a couple of capital D’s. I went to the studio, picked up the book, gathered my scalpel (a real surgeon’s knife) and blades, and headed home with all of these lost loved ones in my mind.

On 10/10/10, while thousands of organizations around the world gathered to do something for the environment, I worked on my environmental justice art. Mom and I spent the entire day in Friendship and didn’t use the car – which is hard for Stokes County. I went to the graveyard and rubbed the gravestones of our church members who had passed away from cancer. I was not able to include Hansel, because his headstone was not up yet. But I did include his best friend, whom he loved to fish with, and died a few years earlier from a brain stem tumor. In all, I included seven members of Friendship, plus a rubbing of my friend Anita‘s grave.

And after I sewed together the two sides of the book, I needed something to give the book structure. Tucked between the pages of the original book are the rolls of collected grave rubbings.

Anita, more than any other person in the community, likely knew the full impact of cancer. She was the third generation to run her family funeral home. She was also a member of the aforementioned prayer group, which gathered weekly. As I look back of the dates, I have to think that her final prayer was answered. On June 21, the EPA decided to receive petitions regarding the unregulated coal ash. Anita passed away on June 22.

Should the federal government regulate coal ash? Or let industry continue to regulate it, which means do nothing? The strictest regulation would require coal ash to be cleaned up–put into lined ponds, instead of the current unlined ponds that have leaked in the local water systems — ensuring that a freak accident won’t result in a flood in Walnut Cove or Pine Hall, as predicted in this EPA report. That also means the coal ash can’t fly around through the air.

So I am optimistic that the thousands and thousands of prayers flowing from Stokes County, and throughout the rest of the country, over the years have finally been heard. Now we have an opportunity (maybe an obligation) to follow through with our requests. Please sign this petition in support of the full cleanup and closure of coal ash dumps in the Belews Creek community.

After last-minute compromise, N.C. legislature passes coal ash bill

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 - posted by brian
Duke Energy's retired Dan River coal plant, where a massive coal ash spill in February spurred legislative action.

Duke Energy’s retired Dan River coal plant, where a massive coal ash spill in February spurred legislative action.

However dysfunctional, the North Carolina General Assembly always seems to come together in the end.

On Wednesday afternoon, the N.C. House voted 83 – 14 in favor of a compromise bill on what to do about the state’s coal ash problem. A few hours later, the Senate followed suit. The bill will now go to the governor.

Here’s what Appalachian Voices’ Amy Adams said about the bill:

“A far cry from the historic bill lawmakers have touted, this plan chooses just four communities out of 14 across the state to be cleaned up in this decade. The others, our lawmakers have decided, will have to wait for a commission of political appointees to decide their fate.”

We’ll skip the self-congratulatory cheerleading coming out of Raleigh and share more of the finer details in the days and weeks ahead. But suffice it to say, by overlooking the present threats that most of the coal ash sites in the state pose, the final bill comes nowhere close to fulfilling lawmakers’ promises to protect North Carolina’s communities in the wake of the Dan River spill.

Learn more about the bill here.

North Carolina Coal Ash Bill Pending

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - posted by Amber Ellis

By Brian Sewell

On July 14, the N.C. Senate voted unanimously to reject the state House’s revised version of the Coal Ash Management Plan, which weakened the cleanup requirements in the Senate’s original bill. Now, a committee with members of both chambers must craft a compromise bill.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, who sponsored the Senate bill, said the House-approved bill contained multiple dealbreakers including a provision that could allow Duke Energy more time to close ponds if the utility claimed the timeline was not economically feasible.

While the negotiations have prevented the bill from reaching Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk and could lead to improvements, environmental groups see both versions and their many similarities as being too weak to fully address the state’s coal ash pollution problem.

Both the House and Senate bill would require Duke Energy to close four “high-risk” sites across North Carolina within five years. But deadlines for cleaning up the remaining 10 sites would extend until 2029 or beyond, and sites deemed “low-risk” could be capped in place without installing a liner to protect groundwater.

In June, the nonprofit organization Waterkeeper Alliance reported that well-water tests at five homes near Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station in Rowan County revealed hexavalent chromium, a potent carcinogen. Still, an amendment to add the Buck plant to the list of “high-risk” sites narrowly failed in the House.

At press time, the committee had not yet negotiated a final bill.

What do Duke Energy and a messy teenager have in common?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 - posted by amy
Dark gray coal ash permeates the soils along the Dan River. Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance.

Dark gray coal ash permeates the soils along the Dan River. Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance.

Nearly six months have passed since news of the Dan River coal ash spill first reached the public in North Carolina. Since that time, Duke Energy has been working slowly to vacuum up the large, readily identifiable deposits of coal ash from the approximately 39,000 tons that spilled. Most of the cleanup has been focused close to the location of the broken pipe and near Danville, Va., where sediment was trapped behind the low Schoolfield Dam.

Nearly six months of work, and a staggering six percent has been recovered – staggering for how little that is. Duke and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which was overseeing the work, seem satisfied with this recovery rate and have declared the cleanup complete, leaving behind more than 35,000 tons or slightly more than 90 percent of spilled coal ash in the Dan River.

Let’s look at it from another perspective. Say you ask your teenager to clean up his messy bedroom. He picks up a few articles of dirty clothing from the floor and puts them in the laundry, and calls it quits. “That’s it?” you ask.

The sad truth is the premature ending of the cleanup means the Dan River will forever be sullied by the toxic, dark grey ash that lurks below the surface. Coal ash does not biodegrade. It will remain in the river unless removed.

So, where is the remaining 35,000 tons (130 thousand cubic yards) of ash, and why is it not being removed? One of Duke’s replies has been that such a thin layer exists over such a large area – about 70 miles of river that it’s impractical or nearly impossible to recover. But remember the Kingston, Tenn., disaster that spilled 5.4 million cubic yards (1.4 million tons) of coal ash into the Emory River in 2008? The Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the Kingston coal-fired power plant, worked for six years on the cleanup. Ultimately, TVA removed 3.5 million cubic yards of ash in a 12-month period, with 85 percent of the ash being removed in 10 months. This fact makes Duke Energy’s six percent in six months an outrage and a failure.

Another argument has been that continued dredging will stir up more contamination. This is the same argument that has been used by polluters in other spill sites as justification to quit work before the work is complete. When GE spilled PCBs in the Hudson River between 1947 and 1977, it declared that the cleanup would destroy the river and dry up the local economy. However, dredging in Plattsburgh, N.Y., reduced PCB contamination by 90 percent, did not disrupt the community, and was deemed a huge success.

Copyright Yinan Chen; photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Copyright Yinan Chen; photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Returning to the teenager’s messy bedroom, you ask why he hasn’t cleaned up the rest of the junk. “Well there’s so much dust and grime, if I pick up anything else, it’ll just get everywhere.”

Would you accept that answer? I didn’t think so. Then why are North Carolinians expected to accept such a pitiful cleanup of one of our most treasured rivers. We have fallen far short of even half-assed. Every excuse from Duke Energy is like the little boy crying wolf. Most of the actions they say cannot be done, have been done in other states, and done successfully. How long before someone calls their bluff?

The coal ash bill currently in conference committee to reconcile the differences between the state Senate and House versions doesn’t have a regulatory backbone or enforcement teeth. It fails to stand up to the toxic threat to our citizens, and instead of providing accountability, it continues to accommodate Duke Energy. It actually helps pave the way to relieve Duke of responsibility for real cleanup at all of its coal ash pits. With so much at stake, so much public outcry, documented contamination and national attention, this bill is simply not good enough.

You wouldn’t let the teenager just walk away from the mess in his room. We should not let Duke, or North Carolina legislators, walk away from the state’s coal ash mess.

Hey Duke Energy – Buy a Bigger Dump Truck!

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 - posted by matt

The Perfect Solution to North Carolina’s Coal Ash Crisis

There’s been a lot of controversy about how North Carolina will deal with its coal ash crisis ever since Duke Energy spilled nearly 40,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River last February. Shortly after the spill, legislative leaders voiced icy determination to pass a bill that would force Duke to quickly clean up its toxic coal ash lagoons and protect the state’s rivers and groundwater from further insults.

The hope that all this tough talk would translate into bold action began to fade last month, however, when the state Senate passed a bill that would allow Duke to use “cap in place” techniques at some (possibly most) of the state’s coal ash lagoons rather than requiring Duke to use the kind of modern landfills that are required for disposing of household garbage.

Then, what little hope remained appeared to be lost in early July when the House passed a bill that would let Duke off the hook on the timelines for even these meager clean-up efforts. Fortunately, the Senate unanimously rejected the House’s anemic bill earlier this week, meaning the differences between the bills will now have to be worked out in a conference committee next week.

But the question remains, how could these tough-talking legislators have been convinced to pursue such a myopic solution to the state’s coal ash woes?

The answer is that Duke’s lobbyists managed to scare legislators by convincing them that it wouldn’t be feasible to move all this coal ash to landfills on a 5, 10, even 15-year timeframe. The centerpiece of their argument is a remarkable analysis [PDF-page 15 in particular] by Duke’s engineers that claims it would take 30 years to move 22 million tons of coal ash at their Marshall Steam Station if a dump truck were to leave every three minutes, 12 hours per day, six days per week.

From the moment it was made public, though, this analysis seemed a little fishy. Duke consumes 4 or 5 million tons of coal every year at the Marshall plant, but it can’t even move 1 million tons per year of coal ash to a landfill? A back of the envelope calculation indicates it would take only a quarter that much time to move the volume of material Duke was talking about with a U-Haul!

So we took a closer look at Duke’s analysis and discovered an astonishing fact: it is based on the assumption that they could only haul 10 tons of coal ash per load, which is roughly the weight you could pull in a trailer with a Ford F-350 pickup. A light bulb went on in my head… what if Duke used a BIGGER truck to haul all that coal ash?

dump_truck_for_duke

What if, for instance, the company bought a few of those 200-ton rock trucks that mountaintop removal coal companies use to dump waste and debris into stream valleys in Appalachia in order to supply Duke with coal? With that kind of hauling capacity, they could move all the coal ash in the biggest lagoons in the state in a mere 18 months.

Now to be fair, you can’t drive a 200-ton truck on a public road. That means that in the rare cases where there is no place on site to create a landfill it would take longer than 18 months. But even assuming Duke’s lobbyists can’t get an exception to the state’s 40-ton weight limit for light-traffic roads (as apple growers, Christmas tree farmers and many less influential industries in Raleigh have already done), it could still be done three or four times faster than if they were to wear out a Ford F350 pulling one 10-ton trailer at a time.

And just in case you’re concerned about where Duke might possibly acquire such an advanced piece of hardware, rest assured that we checked online and… wow… there are an awful lot of those trucks for sale right here in the great state of North Carolina.

So the final problem to solve is how to pay for Duke’s new dump truck. Now, you might think a $2 million investment in a big old rock truck shouldn’t be a problem for the largest electric utility in the nation, which cleared nearly $3 billion in profits last year. But that’s because you simply don’t understand the mindset of a Duke Energy executive.

The way a Duke executive feels about spending money on hippy-dippy stuff like protecting rivers and drinking water from toxic pollution is a lot like how you or I feel about spending our tax dollars bailing out Wall Street firms whose malfeasance recently crashed the economy.

So here’s our solution: we’ve set up a grassroots fundraising campaign on Crowdrise so that all y’all can help us raise a cool $2 million to buy Duke Energy a shiny new dump truck and, at the same time, ease legislators’ minds about passing a bill that will hold Duke accountable for safely disposing of millions of tons of toxic coal ash.

You’re also invited to a celebration at Duke’s headquarters in Charlotte later this summer where we’ll present them with a check for all of the proceeds. In the unlikely event that Duke refuses the money then we’ll use it to pay for well water testing in communities living near coal ash dumps in North Carolina and to support local groups who are trying to force Duke to clean up the coal ash problem in their neighborhood.

It’s a big win for everyone! Donate today.

Environmental community calls for major changes to North Carolina House’s coal ash bill

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 - posted by cat

Contact:
Amy Adams, Appalachian Voices, 828-262-1500, amy@appvoices.org
Donna Lisenby, Waterkeeper Alliance, 704-277-6055, dlisenby@waterkeeper.org
Monica Embrey, Greenpeace USA, 773-419-0963, membrey@greenpeace.org

RALEIGH, NC –Environmental groups Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverkeeper, Catawba Riverkeeper, Charlotte Environmental Action, Greenpeace, Haw Riverkeeper, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup (Belews Creek), Winyah Rivers Foundation, Waccamaw Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance are deeply concerned about the North Carolina General Assembly’s proposed coal ash bill, and are calling for major changes today to ensure that it protects all North Carolina residents.

Appalachian Voices, N.C. Riverkeepers and Waterkeepers Alliance, Greenpeace and local community groups agree that while the Proposed House Committee Substitute (PCS) of SB 729 has some positive aspects, it contains the same weaknesses as the version that the Senate passed last week. The bill leaves thousands of North Carolinians exposed to the dangers of Duke Energy’s coal ash sites, failing to guarantee clean up at 10 sites that are currently polluting NC’s groundwater.

The groups challenge the House to strengthen SB729 so that it reflects the urgency needed to solve the coal ash problem and protect the health of North Carolina’s communities. House legislators should amend the bill to:

  • Ensure the full excavation of all—not some—of Duke’s coal ash sites. The only sure way to control the polluting impact of coal ash dumps is to completely remove the ash and ensure that new disposal sites are dry, lined, sited away from waterways and properly monitored. PCS/SB729 implements this measure for only four of Duke’s 14 coal ash sites. The remaining sites would be eligible for “cap-in-place.” This measure covers only the tops of coal ash sites with plastic and dirt, leaving the groundwater below exposed to coal ash contamination as chemicals leach from the dump’s base. Capping in place does not stop pollution problems and would not have prevented the Dan River disaster.
  • Ensure that new disposal facilities are safely managed. Duke’s coal ash must be moved to new sites that are properly managed. Important management practices include liners along the base of storage sites, as well as groundwater monitoring systems to detect leaks. These measures are not new to dump sites: Liner systems are common practice for landfills throughout the country. However, PCS/SB729 leaves avenues by which Duke’s ash could escape these important measures. Sites using coal ash as “structural fill” that contain less than 100,000 tons of ash would not be required to use lined basins or ground-monitoring systems. Coal ash could also be dumped in abandoned mines, bringing the ash in close contact with groundwater.
  • Address illegal discharges for what they are: illegal. U.S. residents are protected from coal ash seeps under the federal Clean Water Act. PCS/SB729, however, allows Duke to legalize seeps by applying for a permit—or implementing undefined “best management practices.” The EPA rejects the notion of best management practices as an adequate measure to address illegal leaks from coal ash ponds. The house bill should be consistent with minimum federal guidelines.
  • Make Duke—not ratepayers—responsible for the costs of cleaning up all coal ash sites. Duke estimates that cleaning up of all its coal ash ponds could cost as much as $10 billion. Research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis shows that Duke has the financial means to pay these costs. Polling shows that 91% of North Carolinians believe Duke’s shareholders should pay to clean up all the company’s coal ash sites. Yet PCS/SB729 allows Duke to charge ratepayers for cleanup costs by bringing these charges to the North Carolina Utilities Commission for approval. The resulting irony would be that some of the same ratepayers who live under the shadow of Duke’s coal ash pollution could be forced to pay for cleaning it up.

Duke’s coal ash dumps threaten thousands of North Carolina residents, and many residents are already suffering from serious health impacts.

The Associated Press reports that residents living near Duke’s Buck Steam Station in Salisbury face elevated levels of potentially toxic chemicals in their drinking water. Some families have resorted to using bottled water and the surrounding community has suffered from numerous instances of cancer. Buck Steam Station is one of the 10 coal ash sites eligible for cap-in-place under PCS/SB729. The North Carolina General Assembly should stand with people, not polluters, by drafting a new version of PCS/SB729 that properly addresses Duke’s coal ash problem and protects North Carolina’s communities from suffering a fate similar to Dan River.

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For more information, visit Appalachian Voices’ web page on coal ash.

As the state falters, local governments support coal ash cleanup

Friday, June 20th, 2014 - posted by amy

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This week, the North Carolina Senate introduced a coal ash bill that would require Duke Energy to clean up coal ash at only four of its sites, potentially leaving the other 10 communities at risk from coal ash in the hands of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and a coal ash commission that will be appointed by the legislature and Governor Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke Energy for 28 years.

But as lawsuits quietly move forward, and state government continues to fail to hold Duke accountable for its coal ash pollution, local communities are stepping up and speaking out.

Increasingly, North Carolinians who live near coal ash ponds and have seen waterways polluted are bravely speaking up about their experiences. Residents surrounding Duke Energy’s Buck Plant in Rowan County were featured in an Associated Press story this week about the high rates of cancer they have experienced in their community. Their story mirrors the stories of Belews Creek residents, who also have grave concerns about the serious impacts coal ash pollution may have on their health.

In addition to drawing attention to very serious public health and safety concerns, local communities are also stepping up to propose solutions. Since the Dan River coal ash spill in February exposed the dangers of coal ash in North Carolina, nine communities have passed city or county resolutions that call for the proper cleanup of coal ash, and another 12 communities are in the process of drafting resolutions.

Last October, Asheville made history as the first Southern city to pass a resolution to transition away from coal and replace it with renewable energy. This is a positive step toward protecting communities from coal ash pollution, which Duke and DENR have so far been incapable or unwilling to do.

Since February, the towns of Warrenton and Creedmoor, as well as the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments and Warren County, have passed resolutions supporting clean up of the coal ash spilled into the Dan River and coal ash removal at Dan River Power Plant. These resolutions have demonstrated to government officials that North Carolinians take the coal ash spill very seriously, and it is because of immense public pressure that the N.C. Senate’s coal ash bill lists the Dan River plant’s ash basins as top priority for closure.

Unfortunately, the resolutions supporting clean up of all ash ponds in the Dan River Basin have not been sufficiently met by the legislature so far. As the legislature considers the lackluster coal ash bill, citizens are waiting to hear if the Belews Creek Power Plant, which houses the largest coal ash pond in the state, adjacent to the Dan River, will be included in the list of high priority sites for closure.

Several towns including Davidson, Pineville, and Matthews passed resolutions that support strong legislative action to clean up coal ash across the state. Person County, which is historically and currently a center for environmental justice activism, has passed a resolution to protect their communities from coal ash being dumped in municipal landfills. Person County’s resolution places a moratorium on dumping coal ash waste in municipal landfills. The resolution comes as a result of concern that the communities of Person County will be harmed by the toxic heavy metals contained in coal ash and that the waste should be the responsibility of the producer, Duke Energy, and stored on their own property.

The Roanoke River Basin Association, the Dan River Basin Association, and the National Wildlife Federation have also passed resolutions supporting coal ash clean up. Stokes, Vance, Franklin and Orange counties are preparing to present a resolution for consideration, as are the towns of Kinston, Goldsboro, Mint Hill, Wilmington, Durham, Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

These local resolutions are sending a loud and clear message to legislators that communities across North Carolina want strong action on coal ash. Unfortunately, though some towns may wish to move beyond resolutions and actively regulate coal ash within their jurisdiction, the Senate’s coal ash bill, as currently written, invalidates any local ordinances that “prohibit or have the effect of regulating” coal ash.

Together, we can get coal ash cleaned up across the state! Call or write to your legislator today to make sure they support strong clean up plans for all fourteen coal ash sites across North Carolina.

A “strict proposal” that should be stronger

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 - posted by brian

The North Carolina Senate’s coal ash bill includes cleanup plans that Duke Energy has already committed to, but it leaves too much up to DENR and a coal ash commission that has yet to be created.

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

This week, Republican leaders of the North Carolina Senate introduced the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 (SB 729), a bill that they hope will bring closure to the statewide issue of coal ash pollution, eventually.

Introduced on Monday by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson), the coal ash bill would require Duke Energy to close the 33 coal ash ponds across the state within 15 years – twice as fast as Duke claims is feasible. It also calls for a commission to oversee closure plans and encourages research into other uses of coal ash.

The bill’s sponsors say it would be the most comprehensive and strict regulation of coal ash in the country — just what North Carolina needs.

Demand a coal ash plan that protects all of North Carolina’s communities


Four months ago, a massive coal ash spill at Duke’s retired Dan River plant raised the profile of coal ash pollution plaguing communities near North Carolina’s 14 coal plants. But it also spurred a regulatory and legislative response at the state level, and placed North Carolina in the center of a national debate over how to regulate the toxic waste.

Both of the bill’s primary backers have coal ash ponds in their districts and were outspoken about the need for stronger protections in the lead-up to the current legislative session. Duke Energy’s Asheville plant is in Sen. Apodaca’s district. Sen. Berger’s district includes Rockingham County, where the Dan River spill occurred.

The bill goes further than Governor Pat McCrory’s initial proposal, which fell short of the reforms needed to protect clean water and public health. But it still gives too much sway to Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on how to go about closing most of the coal ash ponds in the state.

Under the bill, coal ash sites considered “high-risk” because of their proximity to major waterways, including ponds at the Dan River, Asheville, Riverbend and Sutton power plants, would have to be excavated and closed no later than 2019. Coal ash stored in ponds classified as either high- or intermediate-risk could be moved to lined landfills or recycled. Sites deemed as low-risk sites could be drained and covered, a practice known as cap-in-place, if DENR and the coal ash commission created by the bill agree it would be safe.

The bill requires DENR and the coal ash commission to develop risk classifications by August 1, 2015. But according to an analysis of the bill by N.C. Conservation Network, the bill provides no specifics guidelines on how levels of risk should be determined.

Once the level of risk is determined for the sites not included in the bill, the coal ash commission must hold a public meeting in the county where the site is located and accept comments. So residents in communities such as Belews Creek and Dukeville that live near massive coal ash ponds that both Duke Energy and state regulators know to be polluting groundwater will have to wait.

“The truth is, no coal ash pond in the state of North Carolina is a low-risk site,” attorney D.J. Gerken of the Southern Environmental Law Center told the Hendersonville, N.C., newspaper Blue Ridge Now. “It is a disaster to leave DENR the discretion to stick with the plan it has embraced for years, which is covering them over with dirt and walking away.”

When it comes to questions of accountability — an especially relevant issue considering the ongoing federal investigation into the close ties between DENR and Duke Energy in the wake of the Dan River spill — Apodaca says that’s where a proposed Coal Ash Management Commission would come in, and that the “true beauty of this bill is it won’t just be DENR making these decisions.”

Tell legislators that N.C. can’t wait for clean water. The coal ash bill should be stronger.

“That’s why we have a coal ash commission, which is made up of nine experts from different backgrounds: health, power, conservation, waste management,” Apodaca is quoted as saying in Blue Ridge Now. “We’re going to have a full mixture of folks and that’s who will be making these decisions.”

The nine members on the coal ash commission would be appointed by legislature and the governor, a prospect that should be met with skepticism based on the the industry interests represented on the state Environmental Management Commission and the Mining and Energy Commission, for example.

The commission would be tasked with approving risk classifications for coal ash ponds and their closure plans, and make recommendations on laws or regulations related to coal ash management. Under the bill, Duke Energy would be required to fund four seats on the commission as well as 25 positions at DENR.

Other seemingly positive changes to the governor’s meager proposal turned out to be arbitrary — more shiny objects than substantial improvements. For example, lawmakers say a moratorium on electricity rate increases until January 2015 would protect ratepayers from incurring costs incurred related to cleaning up coal ash. But a rate case could not realistically begin that quickly.

In short, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Senate bill puts into law what Duke Energy has already committed to: cleaning up the ash at the most high-profile and dangerous sites in the state. But in its current form, the proposal leaves too much up to DENR and a coal ash commission that has yet to be created.

Take action and learn more about Appalachian Voices’ work to clean up coal ash.

We’re Back: Moral Mondays return to Raleigh

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 - posted by Roy Blumenfeld
Appalachian Voices North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams addresses the crowd at the first Moral Monday protest.

Appalachian Voices North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams addresses the crowd at the first Moral Monday protest.

As the North Carolina General Assembly convenes for the 2014 short session, so too have the Moral Monday protests aimed at holding the legislature accountable for its regressive agenda.

Continuing in the tradition of the protests that took place during the 2013 session, North Carolinians traveled from all ends of the state on Monday to voice their concerns about the path the state is being lead down. A crowd of thousands gathered on the Bicentennial Mall between the Legislative Building and the Capitol.

Rather than attack Governor McCrory, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger or their colleagues, the rallying call was for them to “repeal, repent, and reinstate.” Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, promised not to engage in any more civil disobedience without first giving the state leaders a chance to change their ways. The NAACP has organized a People’s Lobby Day on May 27 and plan to see how legislators respond before deciding how to proceed for the rest of the legislative session.

One issue that was front and center at the protest was the environment and the growing angst among North Carolinians was on full display. Signs about fracking, coal ash, and Duke Energy were seen throughout the crowd. Appalachian Voices’ N.C. campaign coordinator, Amy Adams, was invited to reiterate how dire the circumstances surrounding coal ash and Duke Energy’s grip on the state really are. Likening the power company’s affinity for coal to a drug addiction, Amy grabbed everyone’s attention when delivering her remarks.

Other topics various speakers touched on included public education, healthcare and voting rights. The opposition to recent policy changes has fostered the diverse coalition that was present in full force and will continue push back against future actions from North Carolina’s Republican majority.

The theme of the day was a love feast. In an illustration of what is possible through working together, everyone in the crowd was given bread by NAACP organizers. Instead of eating what was handed to them, the members of the crowd were instructed to swap the piece they had with someone standing nearby. The feast showed the power of collective action; as the entire crowd was provided for and had helped provide for each other. Following a short and inclusive prayer, everyone ate.

In the place of civil disobedience, which led to more than 900 arrests last session, Rev. Barber told the crowd that they would instead engage in direct action. Protesters placed tape over their mouths in a symbolic gesture aimed at the controversial new building rule passed last week. Lined up in twos, the protesters silently marched through the front door and out the back. Loaves of bread were left at the offices of Rep. Thom Tillis and Sen. Phil Berger. As Rev. Barber put it: “This is the first and last time I’m gonna ever be told I have to speak a certain way in the people’s house.”

Debunking Duke: Why Captain Abandon is a failed superhero

Thursday, May 15th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg

responsiblemgmt

Since the Dan River spill in February, Duke Energy has been under immense public pressure to clean up its toxic coal ash legacy without passing the cost on to their ratepayers.

Rather than actually cleaning up its coal ash, however, the company is spending millions to clean up its image by launching a new greenwashing campaign that claims, “We’ll do the right thing with our coal ash.”

Defining what the “right thing” is remains contentious. While a recent poll showed that 88 percent of North Carolinians feel coal ash should be stored away from water in specially lined landfills, Duke Energy continues to tout “cap-in-place” as an acceptable remedy and has only promised to move its coal ash at a few high-profile locations.

Cap-in-place involves draining the water from coal ash ponds and covering them with dirt and plastic. Duke claims that it is the most cost-effective option, but cap-in-place will not prevent groundwater contamination, coal ash from leaking into waterways, dam failure, or other potential hazards, like the stormwater pipe that collapsed at the retired Dan River plant.

Capping coal ash ponds does not stop the ash from interacting with groundwater, since water seeps through the unlined bottom and sides of the earthen pits, not the top. Additionally, most coal ash ponds in North Carolina were built on top of streams and creeks that drain into larger waterways, as shown by these maps produced by the Southern Environmental Law Center. A bottom liner is the only way to prevent coal ash contaminants from seeping into these buried waterways.

Promoting cap-in-place as a safe and effective coal ash remedy is essentially another public relations stunt aimed at making North Carolinians feel as though Duke is doing “the right thing” when in fact, the company is proposing to literally and figuratively cover up the problem, abandon their ash pits, and allow pollution from coal ash ponds to continue.

While a bottom liner is necessary to protect groundwater from coal ash, moving the ash ponds away from North Carolina’s waterways is the safest way to prevent another catastrophic spill from occurring. There are twenty municipal water intakes located downriver from Duke’s coal ash pits in North Carolina, and more than 1.5 million residents rely on water that is currently threatened by Duke’s aging coal ash dams, most of which are in poor condition.

Duke has only proposed moving ash at its Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton, and Asheville plants, leaving communities near its 10 other coal plants to continue suffering from coal ash pollution. The company argues that the $10 billion dollars and 30 years it would take to move all its coal ash is prohibitive. This begs the question, what is clean drinking water, healthy ecosystems and human life worth to a company that made $2.5 billion in profits last year alone?

Although Duke Energy spokespeople have assured the public for months that the company would be able to clean up the ash that spilled into the Dan river, Duke officials admitted this week that they will never be able to recover all the ash. In fact, they will only be able to remove a small fraction of what was released. So far, the company says that it will remove about 2,500 tons of coal ash deposits — about 6 percent of the 39,000 tons spilled in February.