Posts Tagged ‘Health’

EIA: Mountaintop removal coal production plummeting

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 - posted by brian
A combination of market and regulatory forces has contributed to a steep decline in coal produced by mountaintop removal mining. Graphic from eia.gov

A combination of market and regulatory forces has contributed to a steep decline in coal produced by mountaintop removal mining. Graphic from eia.gov

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) published a blog post today showing that coal produced by mountaintop removal mining in Central Appalachia decreased by 62 percent between 2008 and 2014.

According to the agency, a combination of factors including abundant and cheap natural gas, growing use of renewables, flat electricity demand, and environmental regulations has contributed to the sharp decline.

It’s important to note that what the EIA defines as mountaintop removal is not exactly the same as what folks in Appalachia call mountaintop removal (to it’s credit, the agency acknowledges the difficulty of quantifying the amount of coal produced using the destructive practice). Because the EIA doesn’t count a lot of large strip mines in the region, the total numbers here likely underestimate the number of mines threatening human health and the environment.

What is clear, though, is that both production and the total number of mines is way down in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

Our work is paying off, but we still have a long way to go. Mountaintop removal is still putting communities at risk. In fact, in many places, active mining operations are getting closer to communities.

Demand for Central Appalachian coal will continue to decline, making further progress inevitable. But we won’t end mountaintop removal by relying on the market alone. The Obama administration must take further action to protect Appalachia by issuing a strong Stream Protection Rule, which is due out this month.

The following is a statement from Appalachian Voices Legislative Associate Thom Kay:

It is incredibly important not to look at these numbers and conclude the problem is just going away. Production numbers don’t convey the extent of human health impacts. Mine location, blasting extent, and impacts to the environment are much more important indicators of damage done to communities. The fact is, even as production declines, mountaintop removal mines are getting closer to communities.

Fewer mines is good news. But don’t expect us to celebrate. The EIA reports that last year there were over 30 mountaintop removal mines operating in Central Appalachia, producing more than 20 million tons of coal. Those numbers should be zero.

Allowing mountaintop removal mining to continue as residents demand new investments and support for economic alternatives will only burden communities searching for a better path forward.

Let the President know we need a strong rule that helps move Appalachia forward.

“It’s just vitamins!” Industry confuses residents on coal ash safety

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 - posted by sandra

While Duke Energy sows seeds of confusion, CEO Lynn Good gets a raise.

Belmont, N.C., resident Amy Brown has rallied her neighbors to demand answers from Duke Energy and state officials on how her well water was contaminated. See video below.

Belmont, N.C., resident Amy Brown has rallied her neighbors to demand answers from Duke Energy and state officials on how her well water was contaminated. See video below.

Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources continue to confound and confuse families that have the unfortunate luck of living in close proximity to the utility’s coal ash lagoons.

Well testing required by the state’s Coal Ash Management Act has shown unsafe levels of toxic heavy metals in hundreds of drinking water wells near coal ash ponds.

Residents began to receive letters in May from the state health department advising them to not drink or cook with their well water. Soon thereafter, Duke Energy began to offer those who received these notices a gallon of bottled water per day per person.

Beyond the notice and the insufficient supply of bottled water, Duke and the state have not done much to help these citizens process the information that their water is unsafe. In fact, Duke Energy hired experts to contradict the state’s public health officials.

So citizens and county health departments are stepping in to help residents air their frustrations and, hopefully, to receive some answers.

Belmont resident Amy Brown organized a recent community meeting and invited Duke Energy representatives to speak. Part of her community is surrounded by coal ash ponds at Duke’s G.G. Allen plant. The water notice Brown and her neighbors received recommends not using the water for drinking and cooking, but she asks, “How safe would you feel bathing your 2-year-old child in water that you’re being told is unsafe to ingest?”

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At the meeting, Duke Energy was met with anger and tough questions from residents who are understandably afraid and concerned. Although Duke representatives agreed to stay until the end of the meeting to answer questions, they quickly left after their presentation, about 30 minutes before the meeting ended.

Another meeting, held in Salisbury, was hosted by the Rowan County Health Department. While the meeting was less contentious, it left residents more confused than assured.

Duke Energy brought coal ash “expert” Lisa Bradley along with them to the Salisbury meeting. Bradley, a toxicologist on the executive committee of the American Coal Ash Association, is known for trying to convince the public that coal ash is safe enough to feed your kids for breakfast.

Bradley insisted that metals like vanadium and chromium are minerals that you can get at your local vitamin shop and therefore are no cause for concern. Bradley’s rhetoric glosses over the fact that chromium changes form easily, sometimes into hexavalent chromium, a carcinogenic form of the substance that is often a by-product of industrial processes.

Ken Rudo, the toxicologist from the Department of Health and Human Services, who has been personally calling residents to make sure they heed the “do not drink” notice, called baloney out on Bradley’s presentation, saying:

“Taking a vitamin is a different, completely different, than having a chemical in your water. It’s different than how your body handles it, how it absorbs it, how it metabolizes it, how it excretes it, how it stores it, and how it can react in your body to cause toxicity.

We are dealing with a situation here that is not taking a vitamin … you can look at the label and make your own decision … What we have here is a situation, where you … trusting your water. and then all of a sudden you find out there’s a chemical in your water that can pose an increased health risk. At the levels that we are seeing it, it’s a low risk, but it’s higher than we, in public health consider to be safe. And sometimes, that view might be different from others.

In the background of all this, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good got a raise of $50,000 for, as some of the business coverage framed it, having “confronted a coal ash spill” as if Duke Energy was a victim versus the perpetrator of the spill.

Will Good use the the money to buy some hexavalent chromium and vanadium supplements? Or might she donate that money to the residents whose lives Duke Energy has disrupted so they get more than the measly gallon of water a day the company is currently providing?

Not only do these residents need more clean water; they need clear answers on the future of their water supply and the effect drinking from it may have had on their family’s health.

Duke expands coal ash cleanup, but leaves N.C. communities in danger

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 - posted by amy
Duke Energy announced plans for its future coal ash cleanup efforts. But the fates of several coal ash sites threatening North Carolina communities remain unclear.

Duke Energy announced plans for its future coal ash cleanup efforts. But the fates of several coal ash sites threatening North Carolina communities remain unclear.

On Tuesday, Duke Energy announced it plans to excavate coal ash from ponds at three power plant sites in North Carolina, along with two more at its South Carolina facilities.

But the fates of several sites that pose significant threats to drinking water and nearby communities remain unclear.

Duke is already required by North Carolina’s Coal Ash Management Act to clean up four sites deemed “high-priority” by lawmakers. By recommending additional sites be excavated, Duke is committed to cleaning up ponds at seven of its 14 power plants across the state. That is, as long as the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is on board.

The total amount of coal ash now planned for excavation is 35.4 tons of ash. Duke plans to move the excavated ash to lined landfills or use it as structural fill material.

Although the company has now committed to cleaning up the ash at half of the sites in North Carolina, the majority of the ash polluting the state’s waterways remains largely unaddressed. As for the seven sites not included in today’s announcement, the company says further environmental testing is needed to assess contamination and determine clean up plans.

Importantly, the sites Duke has not committed to excavating are the largest in the state, including the 12.5 million tons of ash at Belews Creek, the 11.5 million tons at G.G. Allen, and the 27 million tons of coal ash stored at the Buck and Marshall plants. That amounts to more than 70 million tons — the bulk of Duke’s coal ash — still sitting in leaking, unlined ponds seeping and discharging into our waterways.

Around these unaddressed sites, nearly 500 households have been warned by the N.C. Department of Health that their well water is unsafe for drinking or to use for cooking due to contamination possibly associated with nearby coal ash ponds.

While Duke’s announcement is welcome news for the communities living near Moncure, Goldsboro, Lumberton and those who rely on the Cape Fear, Neuse and Lumber rivers for drinking water, others worry they’re being left behind and are concerned about potential harm caused by coal ash stored in landfills — and who is responsible for it.

A year and a half after the Dan River spill, Duke is certainly taking steps in the right direction. But there is still much work to be done for the company to prove it is the “good neighbor” it claims to be.

As the company’s coal ash cleanup efforts expand, we have just a few questions: Does Duke plan to leave more than 70 million tons of toxic ash in unlined ponds polluting North Carolina’s waterways? Will the company ensure the health and safety of workers and residents throughout the clean up process?

Until Duke makes an announcement that takes into account the safety of all its current and future neighbors, we’ll hold our applause.

Learn about the threat of coal ash pollution. Stay up to date by subscribing to the Front Porch Blog.

Video illustrates need for energy efficiency in the High Country

Friday, June 19th, 2015 - posted by eliza

In the mountainous northwestern corner of North Carolina, people pay higher percentages of their income on energy bills than almost every other part of Appalachia and the country. The especially harsh winters in this high-elevation region and widespread, outdated and energy-inefficient housing factor heavily into this problem.

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia team held the High Country Home Energy Makeover contest this past winter to raise awareness about the issue and help three families in need. Their stories are representative of the more than 70 applications and inquiries we received about the contest. Our team is promoting affordable and accessible improvements to energy efficiency as a solution and advocating for our local rural electric cooperative, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp., to develop a program that will offer these improvements to its members.

This video takes you to the homes of the three winners and provides a glimpse of their experience living with high energy bills and struggling to heat their homes in the winter. See for yourself what the face of energy efficiency looks like, and how it can make you smile with lower bills and a more comfortable home!

If you are a member of Blue Ridge Electric, sign on to our letter of support asking for an on-bill financing program, which would help members cover the cost of home energy improvements.

Appalachian Regional Commission receives citizen input

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - posted by interns

By Michael Shrader

The geographic area covered by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The geographic area covered by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

On June 4, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) held one of its five 2016-2020 Strategic Plan Listening Sessions in Morehead, Ky., to gather ideas from Appalachian citizens that will inform the commission’s plan for improving economic opportunities in communities across the region.

The Morehead Conference Center was full of forward-thinking minds from Kentucky and surrounding states who explained opportunities and barriers they see in their own communities. Many common themes emerged related to tourism, and adventure tourism in particular. Some attendants cited the need to cultivate and support family farms to create a local and sustainable Appalachian food system. Others spotlighted the opportunity for renewable energy generation in their communities.

The Obama administration’s POWER+ plan was mentioned several times as an opportunity that must be capitalized on. POWER+ invests in Appalachian workers and jobs through unique programs, many of which bear semblance to those discussed in Morehead. Appalachian Voices’ economic diversification campaign is currently building support for this proposal in Southwest Virginia.

Some attendees had a difficult time differentiating between opportunities and barriers to progress in their communities. Where some saw a vast, employable and idle workforce, others saw a lack of educational opportunities and substance abuse posing serious barriers to workforce development. Concrete barriers to development include a lack of local infrastructure such as highways, water systems and, especially, broadband Internet connectivity.

The massive amount of land owned by absentee corporations and extractive industries presents a unique challenge to regional development throughout most of central Appalachia and was mentioned several times throughout the session. Many residents cited less concrete barriers to progress such as a lack of hope and progressive leadership, and the enduring negative stereotypes associated with the region. Finally, there were many who stressed the need for the restoration of the landscape after mining and the resources to create jobs to do so.

Attendees outlined what they saw as ARC’s role in taking advantage of the opportunities and breaking down the barriers for development in their communities. The resounding consensus was a need to access capital and workforce development resources. In addition, attendees felt that ARC needed to work harder to make sure that groups in Appalachia could gain easier access to resources outside of ARC. Some felt that we needed to find ways to craft new language to talk about our problems and solutions. Others cited the need to address to vast health and wellness issues in the region.

Ultimately, many agreed that ARC, as a federal-state partnership, needs to broker change in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Appalachia. One attendee remarked that ARC must facilitate the conversation to look beyond Appalachia to other struggling regions across the nation to solve systemic problems and implement a new ‘true cost’ economic model.

The listening session brought a wide range of individuals and regional stakeholders together to share their unique perspectives. But some still felt that a representative range of people had not been able to participate. In fact, with the all-day session held on a Wednesday, many in attendance argued that it was impossible for the majority of working people to provide input, and stressed need for better stakeholder involvement and opportunities for public involvement.

Advancing Quality of Life for Patients with Black Lung

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion
Patients excercise at a new rehabilitation clinic in Dawes, W.Va.  Photo courtesy The Breathing Center at Cabin Creek Clinic

Patients excercise at a new rehabilitation clinic in Dawes, W.Va. Photo courtesy The Breathing Center at Cabin Creek Clinic

By Molly Moore

The most severe form of black lung disease, known as progressive massive fibrosis, is at its highest levels since the early 1970s, despite being nearly eliminated 15 years ago, according to a 2014 analysis by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This debilitating lung disease is caused by exposure to coal mine dust. Across the country, clinics funded by the federal Black Lung/Coal Miner Clinics Program provide early diagnosis and assist with the process of filing claims for federal black lung benefits, along with helping patients learn to cope with the incurable disease.

In southern West Virginia, Valley Health Black Lung Program Coordinator Deborah Wills is on the front lines, helping current and former coal miners file for federal benefits and trying to connect miners in need of legal representation with the few lawyers available. Witnessing the increase in severe black lung is discouraging, Willis says, but she points to a bright spot — three rural pulmonary rehabilitation centers opened in the area in September 2014, and another is slated to open in Lincoln County in September 2015.

Rehabilitation for pulmonary patients includes exercises that help patients of all abilities regain their strength. One participant told a local television station that he was able to mow the lawn again after doing the exercises, and wheelchair-bound participants have experienced improvements such as being able to get in and out of bed more easily.

The program provides information about the disease, how to use medications, and, Wills says, “understanding what’s normal and what’s an emergency.”

Often, she says, patients will panic when they can’t catch their breath, which can worsen the situation and send them to the emergency room. The program teaches participants when to use breathing exercises or a rescue inhaler to quell these episodes. “[Rehab] often prevents ER visits because miners can handle what’s going on with their breathing themselves,” Wills says.

Dr. Cecile Rose, an associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, says that there are ways people diagnosed with black lung can improve their well-being. “For people that have a chronic lung disease, we know that maintaining activity levels, having a regular program of exercise for muscle strengthening and for weight control improve … quality of life,” she says. According to Rose, medical care such as regular flu vaccinations, quitting smoking and treating other conditions that can be exacerbated by black lung, such as sleep apnea, can also help.

But, she adds, “medical care by its very nature focuses on the patient and not on the workplace, and the real focus for prevention of pneumoconiosis, of occupational dust disease, has to be on the workplace.”

In August 2014, the Mine Safety and Health Administration published a new coal dust rule that lowers miners’ allowable exposure to coal dust at underground and surface mines. And in April of this year the Labor Department proposed the Black Lung Benefits Act Rule. The draft regulation would require that doctors and lawyers representing both the miner and the coal company disclose all medical records associated with a claim, and make it more difficult for coal companies to avoid paying benefits after a claim is awarded.

The Workers Compensation Programs Office is accepting public comments on the Black Lung Benefits Act until June 29. Visit: 1.usa.gov/1eKpKMo

A story found “In the Hills and Hollows”

Friday, June 5th, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Filmmaker Keely Kernan, who wrote this piece, is currently producing In the Hills and Hollows, a documentary that follows the lives of several West Virginia residents living in the middle of the natural gas boom. The film also juxtaposes the boom and bust coal industry that has dominated the landscape of West Virginia for over a century with the current natural gas boom. Visit hillshollowsdoc.com to learn more about the project. Read the latest issue of The Appalachian Voice, which features stories about our fractured relationship with natural gas.

In the Hills and Hollows is an upcoming documentary film by Keely Kernan about the natural gas industry and its impacts on West Virginia communities.

In the Hills and Hollows is an upcoming documentary film by Keely Kernan about the natural gas industry and its impacts on West Virginia communities.

It was on the banks of the Ohio River that I was reunited with former residents of Tyler County, W.Va., Annie and John Seay. They were staying in an RV park that had become home to more than a dozen transient oil and gas workers.

I first met Annie and John at their home in Lima, W.Va., that was situated up a hollow surrounded by the vast rolling mountains that encapsulate West Virginia. They moved here from California with the hope of living off the land and retiring in the quiet countryside. After spending years investing in their property and building their dream home they found themselves doing the unimaginable — packing up and leaving West Virginia. Their property had been surrounded by dozens of gas wells and the smell of gas lingered in their hollow. There was no end in sight to the natural gas development that was transforming the rural landscape into an industrial zone.

“There is no respect for rural areas and rural areas are the ones getting attacked,” says Annie. After years coping with all the development, the traffic, and the insecurity of the long term consequences associated with living next to dozens of gas wells they decided it was time to leave. They left their home in August 2014 and moved into an RV. What they hadn’t sold at auction was packed up and placed in a storage facility until the time they found their new home.

As I walked towards their RV a large barge of coal slowly drifted down the Ohio River. It had been a few months since the last time I saw Annie and John. The weight of what had just happened and the unknown destination ahead of them was still heavy on their minds. However, their hope remained clear: find a new home, ideally somewhere this could never happen again.

In recent years, West Virginia has had some of the highest rates of depopulation in the country. Many reasons have added to this such as the lack of employment opportunities and the mechanization and decline of the coal industry. After the Elk River chemical spill last January, dozens of for “For Sale” signs started popping up around Charleston. And now the natural gas boom has hastened the population drain.

On my journey throughout the state I have met dozens of residents facing the same reality as Annie and John. These residents’ stories bring to the surface larger issues that need to be addressed in our country today — mineral rights versus individual surface rights, eminent domain versus individual and community rights. Overall, these stories provoke the question — what do property rights really mean?

Lewis County, W.Va., resident Tom Bond. Photo by Keely Kernan.

Lewis County, W.Va., resident Tom Bond. Photo by Keely Kernan.

As Lewis County resident Tom Bond states, “I would be forced to contribute the value of my property to a private enterprise. It is basically unconstitutional.” Bond is an 83-year-old cattle farmer from Lewis County and, like many residents of West Virginia, he does not own the minerals under the surface of his property.

Citizens across the nation are facing these challenges as natural gas development moves into their communities. What makes West Virginia unique is that in many ways this is history repeating itself. We have seen the legacy of the boom and bust coal industry, the poisoning of our waterways and the endless boarded up houses and empty store fronts that line the streets of towns that were once prosperous. In the southern part of the state the counties that produced the most coal are some of the poorest in the United States. We have seen wealth and resources leave and know what it is like to be left behind.

As I sat on the banks of the Ohio River and watched more coal barges flowing past I thought about the direction we are heading in yet again as a state. I have always believed in storytelling, particularly visual storytelling. I think it has the potential to connect us to people and places we might not otherwise know or understand. I hope that by sharing these stories I can help promote an important conversation about the type of future we want to share.

Watch the trailer for In the Hills and Hollows and learn more about the project here.

Appalachian communities are still at risk

Friday, May 29th, 2015 - posted by tom

Mapping the encroaching threat from mountaintop removal

communities-at-risk-widget

One thing we at Appalachian Voices particularly pride ourselves on is our ability to work in the realm where technology, hard data and storytelling converge.

Over the years, we’ve applied these skills to develop tools on iLoveMountains.org like What’s My Connection? and The Human Cost of Coal to show in compelling and unmistakable fashion how mountaintop removal coal mining is ransacking Appalachia’s communities and natural heritage.

Last month, we unveiled our latest project, Communities at Risk, an mapping tool revealing how mountaintop removal has been expanding closer to people’s homes in Central Appalachia — even as coal is in decline — and posing increasing threats to residents’ health and the environment.

EXPLORE: The Communities At Risk From Mountaintop Removal Mapping Tool

We used Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, mining permit databases and mapping data from SkyTruth to develop the interactive map and identify the 50 communities that are most at risk from mountaintop removal. The resulting map offers the first-ever time-lapse view of the destruction’s encroachment on Appalachian communities.

Behind all the data and coordinates, of course, are real people and communities, and that is what drives our work. The communities most at risk from mountaintop removal suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity. The health statistics are equally troubling; a 2011 study found double the cancer rates in counties with mountaintop removal compared to nearby counties without it.

Our goal with Communities at Risk is to ramp up the pressure on the White House to end this practice, which remains the single-most overwhelming environmental threat in the region. In the early days of President Obama’s administration, promises were made that regulating mountaintop removal would be based on science. The science on the dire impacts is definitive, yet the administration has failed to act accordingly.

WATCH: Communities At Risk — End Mountaintop Removal Now

Appalachians are working hard to reinvent their economy and outlast the fall of King Coal. Much of that future rests on protecting the air, the water, and the region’s unparalleled natural beauty.

It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations. As citizens have argued for years, cracking down on the continuing devastation of mountaintop removal is critical to moving Appalachia forward.

For Appalachia,

Tom Cormons

Reflections from the second SOAR Summit

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 - posted by Adam
SOAR is an outstanding example of regional, bipartisan collaboration on the biggest question facing central Appalachia. But the initiative must foster a more inclusive conversation if it hopes to create lasting change.

SOAR is an outstanding example of regional, bipartisan collaboration on the biggest question facing central Appalachia. But the initiative must foster a more inclusive conversation if it hopes to create lasting change.

I remembering hearing about the SOAR Initiative when it was first announced in 2013.

Like a lot of people working for a better Appalachia, I was excited to hear that the question of “what comes next?” was finally receiving some high-level attention.

Last week’s summit was the first time I had connected directly with the initiative and I had high hopes. Although SOAR focuses specifically on enhancing economic opportunities in eastern Kentucky, I was counting on bringing back ideas and inspiration that could be applied to Appalachian Voices’ economic development work in far southwest Virginia.

The event was well attended — an estimated 1,300 people showed up. But, even with so many who care deeply about transitioning the eastern Kentucky economy gathering in one place, there was disappointingly little time or space created for discussion amongst the people who are doing the lion’s share of the on-the-ground work in Appalachian communities. There was a lot of “talking at” and not nearly enough “talking with.”

MACED’s Ivy Brashear had a similar reaction and shared her thoughts in an eloquent post titled “SOAR still important, but second summit falls short of expectations.”

This is not to say that some of the “talking at” portions of the summit were not inspiring or worth hearing. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez was on the scene, and he gave a very enthusiastic and hopeful speech about the future of the region.

During his plenary address, Secretary Perez officially rolled out $35 million in federal implementation grants available through the POWER Initiative, a coordinated effort led by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to invest in communities negatively impacted by changes in the coal industry and power sector.

These grants were first announced back in March, and were described by the Obama administration as “a down payment” on the POWER+ Plan.

There was plenty of talk in the hallways among my colleagues about POWER+, and I heard a few related questions asked during Q&A section of multiple presentations. But I was surprised that no one on stage that I saw throughout the day mentioned it on their own. My most recent post was all about how POWER+ deserved a warmer welcome, and it seems like that’s still the case.

Even though POWER+ got the cold shoulder, there was a lot of attention given to other worthy issues such as broadband expansion, technology job creation, local foods, youth leadership development and the arts.

Taken as a whole, SOAR is an outstanding example of regional, bipartisan collaboration on the biggest question facing central Appalachia. When so many different players come to the table with varying backgrounds and interests, it’s naturally a delicate process to keep the boat afloat.

It was never a secret that the coal economy was headed for an eventual collapse. Regional production peaked in 1997, but a web of social and political forces have kept clinging to the past. Finally, we’ve reached a place where we see a robust regional discussion and federal programs focused on diversifying the central Appalachian economy.

The role of Appalachian Voices and our allies is, and will continue to be, ensuring that promising initiatives like SOAR include new ideas and ways of thinking are not stuck in that old and tired web that no longer serves the best interests of Appalachian communities.

A new challenge to fracking in North Carolina

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - posted by brian
Fracking rig

Clean Water for North Carolina filed a constitutional challenge to the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission’s authority to strike down local ordinances on fracking. Photo by Bob Warhover

Clean Water for North Carolina and three residents of counties where fracking could occur are challenging the authority of the state to preempt local ordinances offering communities greater protections from the practice.

The group’s complaint, which was filed in Wake County Superior Court last Friday, alleges that the law legalizing fracking in the state unconstitutionally grants the Mining and Energy Commission judicial powers, including the authority to determine whether local ordinances restrict fracking and can be overturned.

The complaint cites a section of the North Carolina constitution declaring “the legislative, executive, and supreme judicial powers of the State government shall be forever separate and distinct from one another.”

“The courts, and not the Mining and Energy Commission, which is stacked with pro-industry legislative appointees, should rule on ordinances enacted by local governments,” Clean Water for North Carolina Executive Director Hope Taylor said in a press statement.

“Last year, tens of thousands of people, including many [Clean Water for North Carolina] members, commented at hearings or in writing to say the Oil and Gas rules do not come close to protecting their communities,” Taylor said. “And yet we’ve been told to accept drilling and fracking 650 feet from our homes, drinking water wells and schools, and 200 feet from our streams. If local governments decide democratically to enact protections that their citizens need, the MEC shouldn’t be able to toss them out.”

North Carolina prohibits local ordinances that could restrict drilling, because, according to the language in the law, it is “the intent of the General Assembly to maintain a uniform system” for fracking statewide. But dozens of North Carolina counties and towns have already passed resolutions calling on the General Assembly to hand over control, while others urge lawmakers to reinstate the ban on fracking altogether.

The challenge follows lawsuits disputing the constitutionality of several state commissions — including the Mining and Energy Commission and the Coal Ash Management Commission — with a majority of members appointed by the legislature.