Posts Tagged ‘Coal Ash’

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.

EPA Proposal for Toxic Coal Pollutant Won’t Protect Clean Water

Thursday, May 15th, 2014 - posted by eric

Contact:
Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist, 828-262-1500, eric@appvoices.org
Erin Savage, Water Quality Specialist, 828-262-1500, erin@appvoices.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft of new national water quality standards for selenium, a toxic pollutant discharged from many mountaintop removal coal mines and coal ash ponds. Even at very low concentrations, selenium is extremely toxic to fish, causing physical deformities and reproductive failure.

EPA is proposing a more complicated system for measuring selenium. Currently, the recommended standard for selenium consists of a four-day average concentration in water of 5 parts per billion (ppb). As proposed, the new rule will primarily rely on testing for the pollutant in fish tissue, a more complex method of monitoring than stream water testing. The complexity of this new standard will make it more difficult and expensive to implement for state agencies, industries, and concerned citizens.

The new standard does include water-based testing, but increases the recommended testing period from four days to 30 days. The new standard can be adjusted for fewer days of testing, if necessary. Under that provision, the new allowable selenium concentration for a four-day time period would be seven times higher than the current standard.

A statement from Appalachian Voices Water Quality Specialist Eric Chance:

“This new selenium standard is a step backwards. The scientific community has been fairly clear for some time that the current standards were too weak, but this newly proposed standard will actually allow more selenium pollution, not less. Headwater streams below mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia, and the people who depend on that water, are going to suffer from this decision.”

“This new rule would make it almost impossible for citizens to exercise their rights under the Clean Water Act to protect waters they care about. Citizens would be required to collect seven times as many water samples as they do now, or they’d have to collect fish to analyze which generally requires a special permit.”

“Fish tissue standards are good for measuring the effects of selenium on fish but they don’t take into account effects on other species like birds, and they are nearly impossible to translate into limits on a Clean Water Act permit for a coal mine that discharges selenium. For these reasons, we are glad to see that EPA has included water-based standards as well, but they aren’t strong enough.”

EPA is collecting public comments on this proposed rule until June 13, 2014. Those wishing to submit comments can email ow-docket@epa.gov with the subject heading: “Attention Docket No. EPA–HQ–OW–2004–0019.”

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Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Knoxville, Tn. and Washington, D.C

North Carolinians Stand Together for Coal Ash Cleanup

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 - posted by kara

“We are not against business… we are not against good business practices, but we are against business practices that step on and hurt and put at risk the lives of people. And that must be cleaned up.” – Rev. Dr. William Barber

Protesters outside Duke Energy's shareholder meeting.

Protesters outside Duke Energy’s shareholder meeting.

Hundreds of citizens from across North Carolina converged on May Day for the annual Duke Energy shareholders meeting.

For four years now, social justice advocates have brought the people’s demands to Duke’s doorstep and to the shareholders who influence the corporation’s policies.

The Dan River coal ash spill and attacks on clean energy were highlighted during the action along with several other racial, environmental and economic injustices practiced by Duke Energy which is the largest energy company in the world.

Appalachian Voices co-sponsored the action with a broad coalition of groups including NC WARN, Greenpeace, Charlotte Environmental Action, NC NAACP, Democracy NC, and Action NC.

Several local groups made the action memorable, effective and safe. I’d like to give a special shout out to the volunteer-based Charlotte Environmental Action who led our chants and was the creative force behind the outstanding banners and signs.

You can watch a compilation of speeches and footage from the protest in this YouTube video made by the Canary Coalition.

Community members and advocates paddle on Belews Lake.

Community members and advocates paddle on Belews Lake. Photo by Avery Locklear

We followed this statewide action with a paddle and picnic community day at Belews Creek, where Duke Energy’s largest — and arguably North Carolina’s dirtiest — coal plant operates and pollutes. Appalachian Voices, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, NC WARN and the Tarheel Paddlers Association pulled together a May 10 morning paddle with kayaks and canoes on Belews Lake, which has long history of contamination from the coal-fired power plant that sits on its banks.

After the paddle we shared a potluck style meal with 75 local residents to celebrate our progress and community resilience. The sight of everyone uniting to end the environmental injustices and racism experienced in Belews Creek solidifies the movement to secure a healthy and safe future free of pollution and inequity. We’ve come a long way as a grassroots effort – we recently named the community group as “Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup,” drafted our collective vision and resolution (attached below) and strengthened the national fight for clean water with the video “At What Cost?”

If you’d like to help our work go farther, you can take a few actions from home:

> Share the “At What Cost” video on Facebook or Twitter
> Sign this petition to protect net metering policies and residential solar energy in North Carolina
> Contact us to find a group near you working to clean up coal ash or increase renewable energy!

Court Grants North Carolinians a Voice in the Coal Ash Lawsuits

Thursday, May 8th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
A N.C. court ruled that Appalachian Voices and our allies can intervene in a state lawsuit against Duke Energy for its coal ash pollution. Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance.

A N.C. court ruled that Appalachian Voices and our allies can intervene in a state lawsuit against Duke Energy for its coal ash pollution. Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance.

This week a North Carolina Superior Court ruled that conservation groups representing the interests of communities living near coal ash ponds are able to participate in a lawsuit between Duke and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources for documented, illegal coal ash pollution at all 14 of Duke Energy’s coal plants in the state.

The Southern Environmental Law Center will represent 12 environmental groups in court, including Appalachian Voices. We will be advocating for the proper cleanup and storage of coal ash at Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Power Plant outside of Winston-Salem. Belews Creek is home to the largest coal ash pond in the state and for decades the surrounding community has suffered serious, and sometimes fatal health conditions that may be connected to heavy metals and other toxins found in coal ash. Watch our video, “At What Cost?”, to hear some of their stories.

The judge’s ruling allows Appalachian Voices, along with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Western North Carolina Alliance, Sierra Club and several riverkeepers to have access to Duke and DENR documents relating to the area they serve. It also grants conservation groups an equal voice with Duke and DENR in the court proceedings and settlement agreement. Previously, DENR proposed a sweetheart settlement requiring Duke to pay an insignificant fine of $99,000 and merely study the illegal pollution at two of its coal plants. Due to public pressure, DENR has since retracted that settlement proposal.

The ruling is an important step forward for communities long overburdened with coal ash pollution. “It’s essential that local community groups be full parties in the enforcement actions to ensure that Duke Energy’s illegal coal ash pollution is cleaned up and that the coal ash is moved to safe, dry storage in lined landfills away from our waterways,” says Frank Holleman, senior attorney for SELC. “We’ve learned the hard way that the people of North Carolina cannot count on DENR to enforce the laws and keep our waters clean without strong pressure from conservation groups.”

N.C. coal plant neighbors ask: “At what cost?”

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 - posted by brian

Near the beginning of our new video, “At What Cost?”, longtime Stokes County, N.C., resident Annie Brown says, “I love to turn the switch on and have my lights just like anyone else, but at what cost?”

It’s a question we should all ask of ourselves. Our everyday lives come full of choices that influence how we relate to the environment and each other. But we also must routinely direct our elected officials and the companies that sell us electricity to consider the question: at what cost do our outdated, and often dangerous, energy policies and practices come?

In the video, Brown and other residents and former residents wonder about the relationship between their communities’ health problems and their proximity to Duke Energy’s Belews Creek coal plant, the largest in the Carolinas.

Live in North Carolina? Click here to take action on coal ash.

The plant also has the largest unlined toxic coal ash pit in the state, only increasing locals’ concern about the likelihood that their health problems could be linked to the coal plant in their backyard.

Duke Energy’s marketing team says: “You don’t think about all that’s going on behind that switch, because we do.” But Annie Brown thinks about, and so do we.

North Carolina deserves better. And with the Duke Energy shareholders meeting this Thursday, and the 2014 state legislative session beginning in just two weeks, now is the time to demand stronger protections from coal ash pollution.

Please check out our Facebook and Twitter pages to help us share this video widely. If you live in North Carolina, contact your state senator and ask him or her to support legislation that will eliminate the worst threats coal ash poses to clean water.

Surprised? McCrory’s Coal Ash Proposal Falls Short

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 - posted by brian
Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is catching flak for a proposal on coal ash that could derail state legislators’ efforts to reform regulation of the toxic waste during the upcoming legislative session.

According to the News & Observer, McCrory’s proposal calls for “site-specific closures.” Coal ash from some ponds could be moved, other ponds would be drained and capped but likely still threaten groundwater. In other words, basically what Duke Energy has already said it plans to do.

McCrory and John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, have been adamant that a one-size-fits-all approach to coal ash isn’t prudent, talking down a vocal public that believes the toxic waste should be moved from storage near waterways to safer, lined landfills.

On its face, the bill seems to signal progress, or at least make a bad situation a little bit better. For example, it would shorten the time in which Duke would have to notify the public of spills, from 48 hours to 24. OK, probably shouldn’t have been 48 hours to begin with, but we’ll take it.

Also, while the plan would not impose deadlines on Duke to address its leaky ash ponds, it would give Duke 60 days to 90 days after the plan’s passage to submit clean-up plans for ash ponds at the four plants with the most urgent pollution threats – Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton and Asheville.

Pat McCrory

Pat McCrory

But Duke already plans to remove ash from the retired Dan River plant, the site of the massive coal ash spill that reminded the public of the toxic legacy left even after coal plants are shuttered. And the company’s plans to repurpose ash from the Riverbend and Asheville plants as fill material at the Charlotte and Asheville airports are both moving forward.

So what’s the rub? After all, McCrory’s office says it still prefers that the ash be moved away from waterways. But that’s part of the problem. Leaving pond closure timelines and what to do with all that coal ash up to Duke hasn’t worked too well up to this point. The public is demanding clean water be protected, not half measures that leave people to throw their hands in the air and say “well, hopefully Duke Energy will do the right thing.”

Citizens and environmental groups sounding off about the ties between Duke, McCrory and DENR have every reason to be skeptical. DENR’s customer-first (read: industry-first) approach had people scratching their heads long before the Dan River spill in February. And early revelations of the federal criminal investigation that followed the spill only increased the lack of trust.

Perhaps to ease those concerns, Skvarla told the News & Observer that neither McCrory’s staff nor the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources consulted Duke about the proposal.

“This is our legislation, not Duke’s legislation,” said Skvarla. That’s reassuring, I suppose. But the fact that it needs to be clarified does not inspire confidence.

The governor’s proposal could also overshadow other legislation that would do more to get this big dirty ball of coal ash that’s settled in North Carolina rolling. State Sen. Tom Apodaca, a member of McCrory’s party who plans to sponsor a bill strengthening coal ash regulation, says McCrory gave legislators no advance notice of the plan.

“The governor doesn’t do legislation. The legislature does legislation,” Apodaca told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “He should have worked with the folks in the legislature to be on the same page getting legislation drafted.”

Apodaca says the plan he intends to introduce would go further.

“We’re going to mandate actual timeframes to close these (ponds), especially those that are near water sources. We’re determined to get rid of the wet ash pond at Asheville.”

Environmental groups including Appalachian Voices want the state to use its authority to move coal ash to landfills licensed to store hazardous waste. The type of waste that contains arsenic, lead, mercury, you know, coal ash. But the N.C. Environmental Management Commission recently sided with Duke Energy and also appealed the ruling that gave the state the authority to do just that.

Appalachian Voices North Carolina campaign coordinator, Amy Adams, pointed out similarities between the legislation and the controversial settlement DENR asked a judge to throw out after months of intense criticism.

“Sections were essentially copied from the failed settlement between Duke and DENR, and then pasted into McCrory’s plan,” Adams said. “It fails to provide any deadlines, doesn’t require moving of the ash at all locations, and provides no standards for newly generated coal ash. This proposal protects Duke Energy, not North Carolina’s citizens.”

Click here to tell your legislators to reject the governor’s proposal and pass legislation that will move the toxic ash to safe, lined storage away from waterways.

Spring Happenings for Clean Water in N.C.

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - posted by amy
Children splash in North Carolina's Watauga River

Children splash in North Carolina’s Watauga River. Photo by Jamie Goodman

Spring is here and it’s time to go outside and enjoy the warm weather at the park or on the river! I’m so grateful for afternoons playing with my kids in the creek, teaching them about water bugs and sprouting plants. Times like these remind us of how thankful we are for clean water.

Appalachian Voices will be traveling across the state, joining our partners in hosting community earth day events and large public events. We hope you can join us for fun times outside while we advocate for coal ash clean up in North Carolina and defending clean water!

April 24 - Roanoke River Basin Association Town Hall in Henderson. Join neighbors, the RRBA and AV’s Amy Adams to discuss your coal ash concerns and work together to promote a cleanup strategy. 6 – 8 p.m. H. Leslie Perry Library, 205 Breckenridge St. Contact Deborah Ferruccio at deborahferrucio@gmail.com

April 26 – Two Earth Day festivals! The Piedmont Environmental Alliance fair in Winston-Salem Fairgrounds 10- 5 p.m. and Carolina Climate Action Earth Day in Marshall Park, Charlotte — be sure to stop by our table in Charlotte!

April 27 - “The Value of Water” in Boone — a community discussion about protecting our rights to safe water in the wake of the N.C. Dan River coal ash spill and the West Virginia Elk River chemical spill in early 2014. Hosted by AV and Boone Healing Arts Center. Event starts at 3 p.m. at the Boone Healing Arts Center, 838 State Farm Rd.

April 30 - “Light the Path Forward” in Charlotte — candlelight vigil to remember the effects of coal ash. 7:30 – 8:30 p.m. Duke Energy New Headquarters, 550 S. Tryon St.

May 1Mayday at Duke Shareholder Meeting in Charlotte — press conference and street theater outside of the Duke Energy annual shareholder meeting rallying for clean water, clean energy, environmental + racial + social justice, political transparency and a bright future for all. 9 – 11 a.m. Duke Energy Corporate Headquarters, 526 S. Church St. Also, in Winston-Salem catch a film screening and discuss coal ash concerns with Yadkin Riverkeeper, Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Voices. 7 p.m., Temple Emanuel, 201 Oakwood Dr.

May 10 – Belews Paddle and Picnic in Belews Creek — family fun to support protection of Belews Lake, the Dan River, and our drinking water from coal ash pollution produced by the Belews Creek power plant. 11 – 4 p.m. Rock Hill Baptist Church, 4873 Pine Hall Rd.

May 20 - Educational forum focusing on coal ash in Arden/Asheville with Sierra Club, Western North Carolina Alliance and Appalachian Voices.

North Carolina sides with Duke Energy by appealing coal ash ruling

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
A coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant. Photo by Les Stone / Greenpeace

A coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant. Photo by Les Stone / Greenpeace

Why would the state ask a judge to take away its legal authority to stop groundwater pollution?

For years, North Carolina has known that Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds are illegally contaminating groundwater. Yet the state has not taken any action to force Duke to correct the violations.

In fact, the N.C. Environmental Management Commission, the body that oversees the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and determines what DENR can enforce, determined two years ago that the state did not have the authority to make Duke clean up the source of its illegal pollution — coal ash ponds.

Last month, to the relief of concerned citizens and environmental groups, a superior court judge reversed the EMC’s prior decision, ruling that the state actually does have the legal authority to force Duke Energy to immediately clean up its coal ash ponds.

As expected, Duke Energy appealed the judge’s decision. Last week, however, in a move that surprised many, the EMC also appealed the judge’s decision. Why would the state ask a judge to take away it’s legal authority to stop groundwater pollution?

The answer likely has to do with who makes up the EMC and how they were appointed. A local Raleigh news station, WNCN, did some digging and found that at least eight of the fifteen EMC members have ties to Duke Energy or other major power companies. For example, the chairman, Benne Hutson, works for a law firm that has represented Duke Energy in court.

Given that the EMC is appointed by the Senate president pro tempore, the House speaker, and the governor — who worked for Duke Energy for 28 years — it’s not surprising that the commission has chosen to pander to corporate interests rather than adequately protect North Carolina’s water and its citizens health.

Attempts at Legislation, Regulation Follow Water Threats

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Molly Moore

Almost as soon as West Virginia American Water Company ordered 300,000 residents to avoid contact with their tap water, the question arose: why was crude MCHM, a chemical now known to be highly toxic, so poorly understood and regulated?

The lack of a clear answer brought national attention to the fact that few of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in commerce today are regulated. Of the more than 60,000 chemicals that were grandfathered in when the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, only 200 have been tested for safety.

Even before a Freedom Industries chemical tank leaked into the Elk River, efforts to upgrade the 35-year-old chemical safety law were underway. But while industry and environmental groups both claim to agree on the need for reform, opinions are split on the best way to move forward.

In the Senate, the most viable piece of legislation is the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, which was introduced last spring by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La). The bill represented a compromise for Lautenberg, who for several years had championed more stringent chemical regulations. Also in February, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) introduced a related bill — the Chemicals in Commerce Act — in the House. Both bills are supported by the American Chemistry Council, but the reception from public health and environmental organizations has ranged from lukewarm to hostile.

The bills would divide chemicals into high- and low-priority groups, with high-priority substances undergoing further review. If a chemical were deemed low-priority, however, states would lose the ability to regulate it, and it would be extremely difficult for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess or restrict the chemical later. Many of the concerns surrounding this system involve how the EPA would decide whether a chemical is high or low priority, and whether the agency could require a chemical manufacturer to provide enough information about a substance to make a sound decision.

In direct response to the West Virginia spill, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill about the storage of hazardous chemicals. Among other provisions, Manchin’s Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act would set minimum requirements for state inspections of above-ground chemical storage facilities and state-approved emergency response plans, and require that information about chemical storage be shared with drinking water systems in the same watershed.

Just as the chemical safety concerns raised by the West Virginia spill highlighted an enduring threat, Duke Energy’s February coal ash spill into the Dan River in North Carolina highlighted the persistent problems associated with coal ash storage. Following a 2008 dam rupture at a coal ash pond in Harriman, Tenn., which released one billion gallons of the toxic substance into nearby rivers, coal ash became a high-profile environmental issue. In early 2009, the EPA announced a plan to address coal ash and, among other measures, “order cleanup and repairs where needed, and develop new regulations for future safety.”

Five years later, however, there are still no federal regulations governing coal ash storage or the cleanup of contaminated sites, though the agency faces a court-ordered deadline to issue a rule by mid-December. The EPA is considering two proposals — one system would label coal ash as nonhazardous while the other would declare it hazardous and require stricter regulations. A bill that passed the House last summer and is pending in the Senate would negate any EPA regulations and leave oversight up to the states.

The Duke Energy coal ash spill also came just a few months before the EPA faces another court-ordered deadline, this one to address water pollution from coal-fired power plants. By May 22, the agency must update its 30 year-old effluent guideline rule under the Clean Water Act, which could impose the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in the wastewater that power plants discharge.

For updates on coal ash regulation, visit Appalachian Voices’ Red, White and Water campaign at appvoices.org/rww, or track chemical safety legislation on the Green Chemistry Law Report at blog.verdantlaw.com

A Moral Call to End Dangerous Coal Ash Storage

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
Concerned citizens filled a church in Eden, N.C., last week to learn more about coal ash and the threats it poses to the environment and human health.

Concerned citizens filled a church in Eden, N.C., last week to learn more about coal ash and the threats it poses to the environment and human health.

Last Monday, concerned citizens packed the pews of a local church in Eden, N.C. The crowd, which was a diverse mixture of age, race and background, assembled for a town hall meeting on coal ash organized by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP as a part of the Moral Monday movement.

Duke Energy’s Dan River coal-fired power plant is located in Eden, and it was there that a stormwater pipe below the massive coal ash pond failed in February, spewing thousands of tons of toxic laden coal ash into the Dan River.

Citizens are still seeing the effects of the spill. Mollusks and turtles are washing up dead on the banks of the Dan and local farmers are concerned that they may not be able to rely on water from the river this season or in the future.

The NAACP organized the meeting to raise awareness about the spill and its aftermath, but also to shed light on the coal ash problem that exists across North Carolina. The group is drawing attention to how most coal ash ponds are located in low-income communities and communities of color. Across the country, communities of color and poor families face environmental injustices that burden them with the economic and health impacts of pollution.

At the town hall meeting, Annie Brown gave testament to environmental injustices of coal ash. Brown has spent her entire life living near the Belews Creek Coal Plant, which has a coal ash pond with a capacity of more than four billion gallons — the largest in North Carolina. She has raised children and grandchildren in the area and has watched her family and neighbors become ill with unusual diseases and cancer. Brown bravely spoke to the packed church about her own health issues and the scores of her neighbors she has seen die prematurely over the years. Watch her entire speech here.

Annie Brown was one of seven panelists at the meeting. Others included representatives from Appalachian Voices, the Southern Environmental Law Center, NC WARN, and Dawn Witter, a resident of Danville, Va., who spoke eloquently about the economic effects the spill has had on the city and the potential health risks associated with water pollution. Witter explained that Danville was once a center for industry, and the community, economy and river have borne the burden of pollution for decades. For her, the Dan River spill was a painful continuation of that trend.

North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber gave a rousing speech about the sinful nature of the issue. He pointed out that the same government that cut healthcare for the poor, also cut back environmental regulations that protect human health, especially for those North Carolinians’ who live in communities that are the most impacted by pollution.

The information presented at the town hall meeting left little doubt in participants’ minds that Duke Energy is not a trustworthy company. Time and time again, Duke has chosen to ignore the voices of the communities in which it stores its toxic waste dumps rather than acting as responsible neighbors and protecting communities from pollution in ways that would save lives.

Last week, Duke requested that citizen groups who have intervened in the state’s coal ash lawsuits be barred from participation. The judge has yet to make a decision, but based on Duke’s previous dismissal of community concerns, it is imperative that communities be given a voice in the lawsuit. Without anyone to advocate for their health, it is likely that Duke will continue to allow life-threatening pollution to contaminate communities.

To watch more of the town hall meeting, check out the live stream here.