Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

Our Energy Savings campaign is heating up in the High Country

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - posted by rory

Home Energy Contest Demonstrates Strong Need for Energy Efficiency Finance Options

homeenergymakeover_main

When Appalachian Voices asked Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. (BRE) to help alleviate poverty and support economic development in the North Carolina High Country by developing an on-bill energy efficiency finance program, BRE said, surprisingly, that they weren’t sure that was something that enough members would sign up for.

They offered this response despite the fact that, at the time, we had presented them with seventy letters from BRE members requesting an on-bill finance option (in addition to more than 100 signatures on a petition requesting the same thing).

We decided we would go one step further in demonstrating that demand, so back in October we launched our High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest. Through the contest we solicited enough in donations and sponsorships to be able to pay for upgrading the homes of three BRE members, and we are now able to provide a voice to and tell the stories of members who need help paying for home efficiency upgrades.

The contest turned out to be a huge success, and we announced the three contest winners last Thursday. The home improvements for the three winners will be tailored to their needs based on comprehensive energy audits that were completed over the last week. The work will primarily include insulation and weatherization — two common problems that lead to high energy bills, especially during the winter months — and will be performed by one or more of the five local businesses that sponsored or supported the contest. Those businesses include Blue Ridge Energy Works, LLC, High Country Energy Solutions, Inc., HomEfficient, reNew Home, Inc. and Sunny Day Homes, Inc.

Once the improvements have been performed, in partnership with ResiSpeak, we will monitor and report on the savings generated for each of the winners, thereby demonstrating the impact that even basic efficiency improvements can have in terms of reducing energy bills and improving the quality of life for High Country residents.

Overall, nearly 70 BRE members entered the contest. Key information about household income, energy use and expenses, and basic information about the applicants’ homes was provided. Based on the submitted information, we found that the average applicant spent more than 8 percent of his or her annual income on energy bills over the last year — nearly three times the national average of 2.7 percent. More than a quarter of applicants spent 15 percent or more of their income on energy bills. Such costs are especially burdensome given the average poverty rate of 23 percent in the BRE region.

Now to present the winners! We are so honored to know these folks, and we are even happier to be able to help improve their homes and reduce their energy bills. None of the winners or the other applicants are necessarily impoverished. They are hard-working individuals like Zack Dixon that are having a hard time finding a job. They are parents like Sean Dunlap who lives with his two young children in his dream home, but a home that lacks sufficient insulation or air sealing. And they are a retired couple living on a fixed income, like Vance Woodie and his wife. None of these folks have access to sufficient funds to make the comprehensive energy efficiency improvements needed in their homes. And, beyond the contest, each of our winners could still benefit substantially from an on-bill energy efficiency finance program through BRE, as could thousands of other BRE members that still need help.

Grand Prize Winner: Zack Dixon

Zachary Dixon, left, pictured with Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil.

Zachary Dixon, left, pictured with Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil.

Zack, a resident of Boone, N.C., heats his house with space heaters, and chronically struggles to pay his electricity bills. Over the last year, Zack spent 11 percent of his income on electricity bills. His power has been cut off by BRE twice this winter when he overdrew his pre-paid account, after which BRE assisted Mr. Dixon with a bill payment from its Operation Round Up program.

While such financial assistance helps many residents keep their homes heated in the winter, it fails to resolve the underlying problems of older or poorly built, drafty houses. For Zack, running the space heaters throughout the day is costly, and doesn’t sufficiently warm his house because of poor insulation in the attic and floors.

“I just don’t want to be freezing anymore,” he said. “There’s been times when I don’t want to get out of bed and be in the cold. It’s been a real big pain, but if I could at least quit stressing about the bills, I’d be happy.” He added, “the most important thing, that I never realized, is how much heat I’ve been losing.”

Zack’s prize will cover insulation for the floors and attic, as well as air sealing throughout the house to lock in heat and reduce his electricity use.

Runner-up: Vance Woodie

Thelma and Vance Woodie with Chuck Perry, program director for North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance.

Thelma and Vance Woodie with Chuck Perry, program director for North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance.

Vance and his wife Thelma have worked hard to modernize their turn-of-the-century home in Sugar Grove, N.C. Once heated by a coal stoker furnace, their house is now heated by an oil furnace, but the old ducts have not been replaced and so they draw cold air from the basement, which also causes problems with air quality in their home.

“I guess that’s why the dust still comes thick in the house,” Vance said. The elderly couple shuts off part of their house in the winter to reduce heating costs, but they still spend 16 percent of their income on energy bills. Responding to winning the contest, Vance said: “We needed something, some kind of help, so we took a chance.”

Runner-up: Sean Dunlap

Sean Dunlap of Sugar Grove, N.C.

Sean Dunlap of Sugar Grove, N.C.

Sean lives with his wife and two children in a 1938 farm house built by his wife’s great-grandfather, making their children the fifth generation to live there. Despite making what energy efficiency improvements they could, there is still a lot to do. Their prize money will cover adding insulation and weatherization the lack of which places their plumbing at risk and results in a cold home in the winter. “We are so excited to find out that we won,” said Mr. Dunlap. “Now our work with Appalachian Voices will continue as we upgrade our house. Their professionalism and expertise has already made a huge difference and now we are able to look forward to making our home more efficient, comfortable and livable for our family.”

The contest was sponsored by the local businesses listed above as well as the Blumenthal Foundation and LifeStore Insurance. The North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance provided home walk-through assessments and energy audits. Appalachian Voices extends our deepest gratitude to each of the businesses and organizations for their support.

If you are a BRE member and would like to show your support for BRE developing an on-bill energy efficiency finance program that could help folks like Zack, Vance and Sean, or are in need of such support yourself, join the Energy Savings for the High Country campaign and sign the petition!

Home Energy Contest Reveals Pressing Need in Western NC

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 - posted by cat

Residents spend three times national average on energy bills

Contact:
Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director, 828-262-1500, rory@appvoices.org
Sarah Kellogg, North Carolina Field Organizer, 828-262-1500, sarah@appvoices.org

Boone, N.C. — In announcing the three winners of its “High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest” today, Appalachian Voices said that the need for residential energy efficiency improvements in one of the poorest areas of the state is even greater than originally believed.

Nearly 70 residents of the High Country entered the contest, launched in October by Appalachian Voices, a regional nonprofit conservation organization based in Boone. Key information about household income, energy use and expenses, and basic information about the applicants’ homes was provided. Based on the submitted information, Appalachian Voices found that the average applicant spent more than 8% of his or her monthly income on electricity and gas between November 2013 and October 2014—nearly three times the national average of 2.7% reported by the Federal Energy Information Administration. A preliminary analysis had indicated that people in this area pay an average of 3.9% of their income on their energy bill. In addition, the contest revealed that more than a quarter of applicants spent 15% or more of their income on energy bills.

“While we are extremely glad that we can help these three families lower their energy costs and make their homes more comfortable this winter, there are thousands of homes in this area that are in dire need of fundamental improvements like insulation and weatherization,” said Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director. “Energy costs can be a huge burden for families and are especially burdensome given the average poverty rate of 23% in this region.”

Appalachian Voices targeted the contest to the service territory of Blue Ridge Electric (BRE) Membership Corp.—generally, Alleghany, Ashe, Caldwell and Watauga counties, and parts of Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties. BRE is the sixth largest of the 26 electric membership cooperatives in the state. In addition to providing the winners a combined total of $4,850 worth of home improvements to help lower their energy costs, the contest was aimed at generating public support for BRE to offer loans to its members that pay for home energy efficiency upgrades and are paid back by a portion of the money they save each month on their electric bills, with the remainder of the savings benefiting the participating members. Such “on-bill financing” programs have been extremely successful in other places, including in areas of North Carolina served by electric co-ops.

“If BRE offered this financing, and just 1% of its members took out a $7,500 loan, that would translate into roughly $4.7 million in local investment and 70 jobs created for this area,” McIlmoil said. “But more importantly, it would help improve the quality of life and reduce energy costs for people, alleviating the impacts of the high level of poverty we see in the region.”

THE WINNERS:
NOTE TO EDITORS: Contact Sarah Kellogg to arrange interviews with the winners; see here for more information and pictures of the winners.

The grand prize winner, Zachary Dixon of Boone, heats his house with space heaters and chronically struggles to pay his electricity bill. His power has been cut off by BRE twice this winter due to overdrawing his pre-paid account. “I just don’t want to be freezing anymore,” he said. “There’ve been times when I don’t want to get out of bed and be in the cold. I never realized how much heat I’ve been losing.” Mr. Dixon’s prize will cover more than $3,000 in insulation for the floors and attic, and weatherization throughout the house to seal in heat and reduce his electricity use.

Runner-up Vance Woodie and his wife Thelma heat their turn-of-the-century home in West Jefferson with an oil furnace, but the old ducts have not been replaced and draw cold air from the basement, which also causes problems with air quality in their home. “I guess that’s why the dust still comes thick in the house,” Mr. Woodie said. The elderly couple shuts off part of their house in the winter, but they still spend 16% of their income on energy bills. “We needed something, some kind of help, so we took a chance.” They will receive $800 worth of work to remove and seal off the old air ducts, as well as adding insulation where possible.

The other runner-up, Sean Dunlap, lives with his wife and two children in a 1938 farm house in Sugar Grove built by his wife’s great-grandfather. Their $800 prize money will cover adding insulation and weatherization, the lack of which places their plumbing at risk and results in a cold home in the winter. “We are so excited to find out that we won,” said Mr. Dunlap. “Now our work with Appalachian Voices will continue as we upgrade our house. Their professionalism and expertise have already made a huge difference and now we are able to look forward to making our home more efficient, comfortable and livable for our family.”

“An on-bill energy efficiency financing program would allow households in our area to make tremendous reductions in their energy consumption instead of continuing to burn money by heating inefficient homes year after year,” said John Kidda, President of reNew Home, Inc., a Boone-based home energy improvement company. “Such a program would also stimulate the recovering construction and home improvement industries, putting more money in the hands of local tradespeople and creating jobs in the process.”

The work will be performed by one or more of the five local businesses that have sponsored or supported the contest and volunteered their time throughout the process. They include Blue Ridge Energy Works, LLC, High Country Energy Solutions, Inc., HomEfficient, reNew Home, Inc., and Sunny Day Homes, Inc.

The contest was also sponsored by the Blumenthal Foundation, LifeStore Insurance and ResiSpeak. The North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance provided home walk-through assessments and energy audits. Appalachian Voices extends its deepest gratitude to each of the businesses and organizations for their support.

More information about Blue Ridge Electric and the benefits of energy efficiency programs can be found at http://appvoices.org/press/energycontest/.

John Kidda, reNew Home, Inc., can be reached at (828) 719-5057.

###
Appalachian Voices is a nonprofit organization that brings people together to protect the communities and natural resources of the region by promoting a shift from harmful, polluting energy practices, including mountaintop removal coal mining, to a cleaner, more just and sustainable energy future. With 23 staff in offices in Boone and Raleigh, N.C., and Charlottesville, Va., Appalachian Voices works at the local, state and federal level, focusing on grassroots organizing and policy reform.

Decent news for N.C. solar power

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 - posted by molly

According to a report by Environment North Carolina, the state ranks fourth nationally for installed photovoltaic solar power in 2013.

According to a report by Environment North Carolina, the state ranks fourth nationally for installed photovoltaic solar power in 2013. Solar Panel image from Bigstock

During the last business hours of 2014, the N.C. Utilities Commission issued a decision with big implications for the state’s strong solar industry.

The ruling wasn’t exactly a fireworks display for clean energy, but it does allow solar developers to start the new year on steady footing. On Dec. 31, the commission renewed a set of rules governing the contracts between electric utilities and independent power producers despite objections from North Carolina’s largest utilities.

The order requires that state utilities provide standard contracts for buying electricity from independent producers such as solar companies, methane-to-energy operations and some hydroelectric facilities. According to the order, all qualifying facilities that generate 5 megawatts of power or less are eligible for standard contracts in five,10 or 15-year periods.

Duke Energy and Dominion Power had requested that the Utilities Commission reduce the cutoff for standard contracts to 100 kilowatts and require any power generators over that limit to negotiate custom contracts with the utilities. Solar energy proponents argued that negotiating custom contracts with Duke and Dominion would cripple solar development in the state. Instead, solar advocates had proposed extending the cap from five to 10 megawatts and extending maximum contract terms from 15 to 20 years.

Jim Warren, director of the pro-clean-energy organization NC WARN, expressed disapproval with the Utilities Commission’s decision not to expand the standard contracts to apply to larger solar installations.

“Prior to July hearings, during the hearings, and since the hearings, solar industry companies have made clear that Duke Energy’s practices are already seriously harming them – and that they need regulators to improve contract conditions in order to force Duke to quit stalling large independent solar projects,” he said in a press statement.

Other renewable proponents were encouraged that the state commission didn’t bow to utility pressure to weaken the rules.

“We’re pleased that the Commission rejected attempts by Duke Energy and others to roll back long-standing policies that allow independent solar power producers to compete in a market that is dominated by monopoly utilities,” Katie Ottenweller of the Southern Environmental Law Center commented in a press statement.

The renewable energy industry also requested that the utilities pay more for the energy they buy from independent solar developers to reflect the social and environmental benefits of solar power. In turn, the utilities asked to pay less to reflect the extra cost of connecting independent solar power sites to the grid. The Utilities Commission rejected both requests and ruled that it was premature to change the payment rates.

Ottenweller also noted that the commission left the door open to considering the social and environmental benefits of solar in the economic calculus in the future. “In [the] order, the Commission recognized the potential for solar energy to bring major benefits to North Carolina customers, and signaled a willingness to make utilities pay fair value to independent solar power producers once those benefits are quantified,” she said.

Winners of Home Energy Contest in N.C. to be Announced

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 - posted by cat

Results show strong need for energy efficiency funding in the High Country

Contact: Sarah Kellogg, N.C. Field Organizer, 828-262-1500, sarah@appvoices.org

Boone, N.C. — Next Thursday, January 22, Appalachian Voices will announce the winners of its “High Country Home Energy Makeover” contest, each of whom will receive a comprehensive energy audit and home improvements from local professionals in the coming weeks to help save energy and money.

A total of $4,850 worth of home energy improvements will be awarded. Two families will each receive roughly $800 in improvements such as weatherization, air sealing, or insulation. The grand prize winner will receive roughly $3,250 in improvements, which could cover the cost of weatherization, upgrades to the heating system, or other work.

Approximately 50 members of the Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. (which was not affiliated with the contest) entered to win. Over a 12-month period beginning in winter 2013, the applicants spent on average more than 8% of their gross monthly income on energy bills, including electricity, oil and natural gas — nearly three times the national average. One-fifth of them spent at least 15% of their income on their energy bills. The applicants spent 30% more on just electricity than the average BRE customer. Full results of the contest and stories about the winners and other contestants will be released when the winners are announced.

The contest is timed to coincide with the onset of the coldest part of the winter season, when many families in the High Country see their electric and gas bills skyrocket due to increased energy costs and leaky windows, doors and attics. Appalachian Voices developed the contest in part to raise public awareness about the many benefits to individuals, local communities and the environment of energy efficiency home improvements. The contest demonstrates the strong need in western North Carolina for more utility-based energy efficiency programs, especially ones that cover the upfront cost of home energy improvements that would provide the greatest benefit to families hardest hit by high energy bills.

The contest covered the BRE service area (generally, Alleghany, Ashe, Caldwell and Watauga counties, and parts of Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties). The contest was sponsored by Appalachian Voices, the Blumenthal Foundation, ResiSpeak, LifeStore Insurance and four local energy efficiency businesses: Blue Ridge Energy Works, LLC; High Country Energy Solutions, Inc.; HomEfficient; and, Sunny Day Homes. The North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance and another local energy efficiency business–ReNew Home, Inc.–are providing direct support to the contest as well.

>> Contest details
>> More information about Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for the High Country campaign

###

Appalachian Voices is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the communities and natural resources of the region by promoting a shift from harmful, polluting energy practices to securing a cleaner, more just and sustainable energy future.

Fracking and pipelines threaten Appalachia

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 - posted by cat
Photo courtesy of Terry Wild Stock Photography.

Photo courtesy of Terry Wild Stock Photography.

Appalachian Voices is launching new web pages today about efforts to open North Carolina to natural gas fracking and proposals to build massive natural gas pipelines through several Appalachian states. These proposals threaten public health, local communities, and the environment, and also could dramatically impede the growing efforts to shift to cleaner energy across the region.

Over the last decade, the natural gas industry has overwhelmed scores of communities across the country, building miles of new pipelines and erecting huge drilling rigs, sucking up fresh water from creeks and aquifers, and overrunning backroads and town streets with tanker trucks hauling chemicals and waste. Local and state regulations are either nonexistent, or insufficient to cope with the impacts.

As a result, the breakneck growth in the industry poses tremendous risk to public health and the environment. And a growing reliance on natural gas, a fossil fuel, could drastically delay America’s U.S. shift to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.

Yes, burning natural gas for electricity has lower smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide than burning coal, but it should not be forgotten that the drilling process releases huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Experts say the rise of natural gas as utilities’ fuel of choice runs counter to the carbon reductions we must make to keep climate change in check.

We can’t afford to invest in new natural gas drilling operations, power plants, pipelines or other infrastructure that would lock us into decades of relying on this fossil fuel, while shortchanging cleaner energy. The thing is, every dollar – public or private – invested in expanding natural gas production is one less dollar invested in truly clean, less carbon-intensive sources such as energy efficiency, and wind and solar power. Not only do these energy solutions translate to cleaner air and more protections for our water resources, they create new jobs and tremendous economic opportunity.

Last year, several massive pipelines were proposed generally running from West Virginia through Virginia, and one would go on through North Carolina. Citizens are taking action to oppose the projects out of concern about the impacts to private property, water resources, and some of Virginia’s most treasured historic and natural heritage sites.

And North Carolina recently lifted its long-standing state moratorium on fracking; Under the sway of the industry and its allies, the state has developed regulations that are wholly inadequate to protect communities and the environment. In response, a grassroots movement has sprung up to protect the state’s natural resources and push lawmakers to reinstate the moratorium.

A silver lining in EPA’s Coal Ash Rule

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 - posted by amy

epa coal ash ruleIt took six years, two costly spills, and a lawsuit, but last month, the Environmental Protection Agency finally issued the first-ever federal standards for the disposal of coal ash. It didn’t wow us, there were no ticker tape parades, and the status quo of corporate sway over rulemaking left us with a rule that lacks brawn and relies on industry “self-implementing,” without action from any federal or state agency.

But the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities Rule does have a little brain, and it gave us something solid to work with going forward with, which is better than the nothing we had before. The journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step, someone once said. The new rule is just that, a first step. It didn’t resolve the issues, but it did move us one step forward, technically speaking, this is progress.

Here’s what the new federal coal ash rule does:

  • Defines coal ash as non-hazardous, as was expected, rather than hazardous waste . Coal ash will now be treated at least as stringently as household and commercial waste. Before this rule, your household garbage of coffee grinds, paper, and banana peels were better regulated;
  • Sets location restrictions for new, existing, and expanding coal ash impoundments and landfills, such as outside of wetlands, above the uppermost aquifer, and unstable areas such as seismic zones. Coal ash disposal units that don’t meet these restrictions must demonstrate they can still meet water quality standards through engineering, or be closed;
  • Requires new or expanding impoundments to be lined, and new or expanding landfills to have liners and leachate collection systems;
  • Requires a monitoring and control plan for fugitive dust for each site;
  • Establishes criteria for ensuring structural integrity of disposal units, and requires routine structural assessments. If a unit cannot meet the minimum safety standards, it must close;
  • Defines filling in surface mines (clay, coal, sand, etc.) with coal ash as solid waste disposal, not as a “beneficial use” of coal ash. This distinction means any mine-fill site must meet the new landfill standards, including having a liner and leachate collection system;
  • Requires groundwater monitoring systems to be installed within 30 months at all coal ash disposal locations. This will begin the process of obtaining data to assess where contamination has occurred;
  • Requires closure of unlined units where monitoring shows significant exceedance of groundwater standards. Since many clean water advocates, academics, and citizens have already obtained a wealth of data from independent testing showing contamination at many sites, it seems only a matter of time before we can prove how many currently unlined sites should be either closed or lined;
  • Requires that coal ash unit owners–mostly electric utilities like Duke Energy and Dominion Power — make all monitoring data and reports publicly available and maintained on a public website. This is perhaps the “silvery-est” lining, giving citizens the information they need to make sure sites are implementing requirements (monitor your local site from the comfort of your living room!); and
  • Provides an avenue for citizens to bring a federal lawsuit against companies that don’t meet the minimal federal standards.

Now, let’s take a look at what the federal coal ash rule most notably does not do:

  • Require states to adopt or implement these standards;
  • Require federal enforcement of the rule;
  • Guarantee regulatory oversight by requiring a state or federal permit program;
  • Call for an end to the use of surface impoundments for coal ash disposal;
  • Require existing impoundments to be retrofitted with liners (unless groundwater contamination is proven); and
  • Define closure such that de-watering and “cap-in-place” –methods that fail to fully protect public health and the environment — are prohibited.

In North Carolina, the Coal Ash Management Act, passed last year, meets and in some way exceeds the new federal rule, including limiting the cap-in-place option only to sites deemed low-priority, instead of being an option at all facilities. It also prohibits any new surface impoundments. As long as the incoming N.C. General Assembly does not propose changes to weaken the current law, North Carolinians will have a few extra protections not available to residents of other states — with the exception of South Carolina, where all electric utilities there are currently in the process of removing coal ash from their unlined pits and moving it to safe lined, storage.

For non-Carolinian states, there is a much harder row to plow in getting meaningful clean-up of coal ash waste sites. But the good news is the new groundwater monitoring and public disclosure requirements should result in data proving contamination at a plethora of sites–provided, of course, that companies are honest and report accurately, and assuming they “self implement” the requirements in the first place. Surface or groundwater contamination has already been documented in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Delaware, to name a few states. We know, therefore, that contamination is very likely happening at more sites, we just have to obtain the proof.

If facilities fail to “self-implement” the rule, states do have the ability to bring a federal lawsuit against them. It would seem that even the EPA finds this action unlikely, however, humorously mentioning such state action as a parenthetical side note in its discussion of rule implementation. However, the EPA repeatedly notes that citizens provide a “crucial role in the implementation and enforcement” of this kind of environmental law, and that part of the agency’s requirement to make the data and reports available on a public website was to assist citizens. The EPA will also be offering outreach and education to citizens and groups so they understand their role in compliance.

We must rise to the EPA’s challenge to help implement and enforce the rule. The EPA basically said, “Here’s the rule, you folks enforce it.”

Thanks, EPA, we most certainly will!

EPA finalizes long-awaited coal ash regulations

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by brian
The failed coal ash pond at Duke Energy's Dan River plant.

The failed coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Dan River plant.

The day we’ve been waiting for has finally come. Yes it’s Friday, but today was also the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s court-imposed deadline to release federal regulations for coal ash storage and disposal.

As expected, the rule it took the EPA five years to finalize is modest at best, falling short of what it takes to truly address the prevalent problems associated with coal ash such as contamination of waterways and drinking water supplies.

Rather than classifying coal ash as the hazardous waste it clearly is, the EPA rule places it under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the nation’s primary law for regulating solid waste. Other types of waste regulated under Subtitle D include household garbage — you know, banana peels, candy wrappers and the like.

“For the thousands of citizens whose groundwater is no longer safe for consumption due to leaching ponds or whose air is contaminated by fugitive dust, failing to regulate coal ash as hazardous is a slap in the face,” says Amy Adams, Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina campaign coordinator. “While we’re pleased that we finally have federal regulations, they are far from perfect and demand we continue fighting for cleanup of these toxic sites.”

U.S. coal plants produce around 140 million tons of coal ash each year. Much of that is stored near waterways in unlined pits held in place by earthen dams. Even years after coal plants have closed, ponds that have stored toxic coal ash for decades can continue to pollute water and put communities at risk.

In 2012, Appalachian Voices and several partner groups, represented by Earthjustice, sued the EPA in federal court to force the agency to issue a rule. Late last year our coalition reached a settlement holding the EPA to today’s deadline.

According to the EPA, the rule establishes safeguards to protect communities from catastrophic spills, like the Kingston, Tenn., spill in 2008. It was the disaster in Kingston that spurred the agency to act.

But more spills, like the one at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River plant in Eden, N.C., have happened in the time since, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental and economic costs.

To address the threat of another catastrophic failure, the EPA rule calls for the closure of inactive sites that fail to meet engineering and structural standards, more frequent inspections and monitoring, and restrictions on where coal ash impoundments are located.

The rule also requires water quality monitoring and public disclosure of the results, which should help groups like Appalachian Voices and our community partners better track pollution and take companies to court that fail to stop it. More frequent reports and accurate information coming directly from utilities could be a big boost for efforts to protect clean water, as long as coal plant operators commit to transparency.

But while the regulations set a minimum federal criteria, states are not required to adopt them, develop a permitting program, or submit a program to the EPA for approval. That’s all more of a suggestion, really. So while the EPA says it expects states to be “active partners” in regulating coal ash, well, states unfriendly to the EPA may feel differently. And should states refuse to clean up coal ash pollution or fail to meet the new standards, the EPA will not step in to enforce the rule. That job will still fall to citizens who identify the insidious pollution and file lawsuits to correct it.

According to Earthjustice, unsafe disposal of coal ash into the nation’s more than 1,400 coal ash dumps has contaminated more than 200 rivers, lakes, streams and sources of underground drinking water in 37 states. There are 331 high- and significant-hazard coal ash ponds in the country. Many of the highest hazard sites are concentrated in the eastern U.S.

Learn more about our work to clean up coal ash.

Proposed N.C. Fracking Rules Move Forward

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by allison

By Kimber Ray

FrackFreeNCgroup

North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission approved proposed changes to state rules on hydraulic fracturing this November. When Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill in June lifting North Carolina’s 2012 moratorium on the oil and gas drilling practice known as fracking, final rules were ordered to be submitted to state legislators by Jan. 1, 2015.

Citizens and environmental groups submitted nearly 220,000 public comments on the rules governing fracking safety standards, but the commission made few significant changes the public proposed. A request to ban fracking waste storage in open pits — deemed too complicated to address this year — was shelved to reexamine another year.

All rules will automatically pass 61 days after the state legislative session begins Jan. 14, and companies will be able to apply for drilling permits no later than May.

Coal ash cleanup still contested in North Carolina

Friday, December 5th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
 Controversies still surround the environmentally destructive and costly Dan River coal ash spill. Now, as Duke Energy begins cleaning up the most high priority sites, new controversies are emerging. Photo from Duke Energy Flickr.

Controversies still surround the environmentally destructive and costly Dan River coal ash spill. Now, as Duke Energy begins cleaning up the most high priority sites, new controversies are emerging. Photo from Duke Energy Flickr.

In two weeks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will finally release the first-ever rule regulating the storage and disposal of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal. For years, communities and environmental groups across the country have pushed the EPA to finalize the regulations, and now, due to a court ordered mandate, the rules are expected to be released on Dec. 19.

In the years following the 2008 TVA coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn., the EPA repeatedly delayed finalizing a coal ash rule, allowing the dangerous waste to sit in unlined landfills and contaminate groundwater at sites across the country. As a result, there have been more coal ash disasters, including the February 2014 spill into the Dan River at Duke Energy’s plant in Eden, N.C. A new study conducted by Wake Forest University research biologist Dennis Lemly puts the cost of the Dan River spill at $300 million.

Spurred by the devastating Dan River spill, enormous public outcry, and a federal criminal investigation into the ties between Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, state lawmakers set about writing their own coal ash regulations prior to the EPA rule’s release. The result was not what North Carolinians hoped for.

The Coal Ash Management Act, which became law in September without Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature, only requires the full cleanup of four out of the 14 coal ash storage sites in the state. The fates of the remaining 10, including Belews Creek (home to the the largest coal ash deposits in the state) have been left in the hands of a Coal Ash Commission, which may allow sites to be capped in place, a method of coal ash storage that does not eliminate the possibility of groundwater contamination.

McCrory did not sign the bill because he felt that the Coal Ash Commission was unconstitutional since a majority of its members were appointed by legislators and not the governor. On Nov. 13, McCrory and former governors James Hunt and James Martin sued the General Assembly, stating that the commission has been tasked with carrying out executive branch functions, as well as functions normally overseen by state agencies such as DENR. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, who are listed as defendants in the case, issued a statement opposing McCrory’s lawsuit as costly and time-consuming.

Despite the weaknesses of the Coal Ash Management Act, the law has already forced Duke Energy to begin cleaning up the coal ash at four high-priority sites, and to submit preliminary cleanup plans and groundwater assessment plans for the remaining 10. But now new controversies are emerging over where the company plans to relocate its waste.

Last month, Duke announced plans to move 2.9 million tons of ash from its Riverbend and Sutton plants to former clay mines in Chatham County and Lee County. Citizens in both counties are upset by the proposal, stating that they feel blindsided and citing the lack of an environmental or health impact study as problematic. In Chatham County, some residents already live near coal ash ponds located at Duke’s Cape Fear plant, which are not currently designated for cleanup.

Duke Energy contends that the clay mines are ideal for coal ash storage because of their close proximity to railways and the added environmental protection of impervious clay. The company says it will put in liners and install groundwater monitoring systems at the sites.

Under the Coal Ash Management Act, millions of tons of coal ash precariously stored along North Carolina’s waterways will have to be moved somewhere. But the unfortunate reality of the law is that many previously unburdened communities and others already burdened by toxic waste dumps may be forced to house some of the ash. Ideally, most of the coal ash will remain on Duke Energy-owned property, but what cannot safely stay on Duke’s land will have to go somewhere. Every North Carolinian has a ton of coal ash to their name, but not every North Carolinian will have to deal with their ton.

In addition to considering new landfill sites, Duke Energy is also looking into the potential of beneficial reuse of coal ash.

If the EPA’s coal ash rule is weak, it will not protect communities from potentially dangerous coal ash landfills or coal ash reuse. Though there are no ideal solutions for the toxic waste, moving forward with the understanding that the substance is indeed hazardous would lead to more safeguards for human health.

If you haven’t already, take a moment to think about why you care about coal ash pollution and explore this topic with others. As North Carolina and the rest of the country move toward coal ash cleanup, it’s more important than ever for us to stand united to demand the safest storage possible.

DENR deserves an environmental leader to replace John Skvarla

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - posted by brian
John Skvarla, the embattled secretary of DENR, is leaving the agency to lead the state Commerce Department.

John Skvarla, the embattled secretary of DENR, is leaving the agency to lead the state Commerce Department.

After a tumultuous two years as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, John Skvarla is stepping over to lead the state’s Commerce Department. Skvarla will replace Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker, who is leaving her post to join a digital media company.

Environmental groups, concerned citizens and prominent media outlets have been critical of Skvarla throughout his tenure, and unsurprisingly so — he has expressed doubt over whether oil is a non-renewable resource claiming, “There is a lot of different scientific opinion on that,” and he questions the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

After assuming his position, Skvarla rewrote DENR’s mission statement to be in the service of industries in North Carolina. Under his watch, information related to climate change was removed from the agency’s website, and the department was reorganized and reduced to nearly inept levels.

READ MORE: DENR found critics and praise under Skvarla

By any measure, Skvarla is committed to being business-friendly. Responding to an op-ed by Appalachian Voices’ Amy Adams in the News & Observer last December, he called DENR a “customer-friendly juggernaut.” But many saw Skvarla as being too cozy with companies like Duke Energy. A federal grand jury is still investigating ties between DENR and the company responsible for the Dan River coal ash spill.

While this announcement should engender optimism in the North Carolina environmental community, that hopefulness is tempered by trepidation over who will take over the position, and concern that he could be replaced by an even more extreme and environmentally detrimental successor.

There is no word on who will replace Skvarla yet, but Gov. McCrory says he is interviewing candidates and plans to appoint a new secretary later this month. Here’s to hoping he or she is the environmental leader DENR deserves and North Carolina desperately needs.

A statement from Appalachian Voices North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams:

John Skvarla ushered in an era of regressive environmental policies and procedures that placed industry over the needs of the environment and people. It is our sincere hope that his departure from DENR will allow the return of accountability and reason to the agency.

Gov. McCrory must choose a leader who will balance real environmental protection and industry growth without the wholesale abandonment of either. The goal of the new DENR secretary should be to restore the mission and integrity of the department by prioritizing environmental protection.

We look forward to working with someone who will reconsider Skvarla’s industry-first approach, which repeatedly put North Carolina’s natural resources as risk as exemplified by the handling of Duke Energy’s coal ash contamination.