Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

North Carolina lawmakers put fracking first

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 - posted by amy
Stokes County, N.C., resident Tracey Edwards speaks in favor of a moratorium on fracking during a meeting of the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners earlier this month.

Stokes County, N.C., resident Tracey Edwards speaks in favor of a moratorium on fracking during a meeting of the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners earlier this month.

The town of Walnut Cove, N.C., and Rockingham County recently joined the small but growing list of localities where commissions of elected officials have passed anti-fracking moratoriums.

On Nov. 10, a little more than a month after the passage of a county-wide moratorium, residents of Stokes County once again raised their concerns with fracking, this time seeking a moratorium from the board of commissioners of Walnut Cove — the first municipality to take up the issue.

Tracey Edwards, a lifelong resident of Stokes County, spoke to the commissioners and other community members when she said, “We have people here out of a four-letter word: love. It’s love of where they live, They love their county, they love their neighbors and they want to live in peace and have a clean environment. That is all anybody really wants.”

Residents across the state are looking to their local government officials to oppose fracking since pleas to decision makers in Raleigh have largely fallen on deaf ears. Thousands of citizens have called or emailed their representatives during the past two years asking to ban fracking in the state. During the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission’s comment period on rules proposed to regulate fracking in North Carolina, a record 200,000 comments were submitted, in vast majority against the rules and against the practice of fracking itself.

“The people at the local level want a voice in what affects our way of life,” Linda Hicks of the group No Fracking Stokes County said “The Mining and Energy Committee has formulated regulations that protects the oil and gas industry and not us”

Last year, the state legislature prohibited local bans on fracking. And in the final hours of this year’s session, in an attempt to usurp all power over oil and gas decisions in the state, lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting any local control and regulation of the fracking industry.

More than 70 mayors, commissioners, and other local elected officials across the state sent a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory on Nov. 5 describing why oversight of such a potentially harmful industry is critical at the local level:

“The notion that our communities have the right to bar or limit activities which threaten public health or the quality of life of their residents has a long tradition in North Carolina’s law. This principle is the basis of common health ordinances and local land use rules, including zoning, which often involve trade-offs with property rights and other interests. Yet the oil and gas industry has the audacity to insist that this basic principle of local control should not apply to its operations.”

The restriction of local authority came under fire during both recent moratorium hearings, and residents concern with handing over control to Raleigh extends beyond fracking. A poll released yesterday by the N.C. League of Municipalities found that more than 75 percent of respondents preferred their local governments have control over billboard regulations.

“We need to send a message to the legislators in Raleigh that they can’t mandate to us how we run our county … I commend you and applaud you for taking this stance,” Rev. Hairston of Stokes County told Walnut Cove commissioners.

Edwards shared that sentiment in her remarks. “We do not want the state to define what we can do,” she said. “You guys are our local elected officials, we need you to take care of us, that’s why we elect you.”

While the three-year moratorium passed in Walnut Cove, and more localities are considering similar measures, officials in Raleigh remain hell-bent on bringing fracking to the state — even if that means ignoring the rights of citizens that could suffer the consequences.

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Pro-solar group gets on Duke Energy’s bad side

Monday, November 2nd, 2015 - posted by brian
Duke Energy wants to smack down NC WARN for setting up a small experimental solar project on the rooftop of Greensboro’s Faith Community Church to test a state law prohibiting third-party electricity sales in North Carolina. Photo by NC WARN

Duke Energy wants to smack down NC WARN for setting up a small experimental solar project on the rooftop of Greensboro’s Faith Community Church and testing a state law prohibiting third-party electricity sales in North Carolina. Photo by NC WARN

Duke Energy wants to smack down a small nonprofit for testing a law prohibiting third-party electricity sales in North Carolina.

As the Greensboro News & Record and other outlets reported today, the nation’s largest utility is asking state regulators to fine Durham-based NC WARN “up to $1,000″ per day for setting up a small experimental solar project on the rooftop of Greensboro’s Faith Community Church.

In a statement this morning, NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren said Duke’s tactics are meant to punish and silence one of its most persistent critics. Warren says the fine, which could total more than $120,000, is “vindictive and counterproductive.”

The North Carolina Utilities Commission is expected to decide whether the project is legal, and whether NC WARN should be fined, later this month.

Today’s news is just the latest development in a local fight with statewide implications that has been brewing since early summer. NC WARN first announced back in June that it had entered a partnership with Faith Community Church to install solar panels and sell the clean power to the congregation while also purposefully putting itself “on a collision course” with Duke.

The same day, the group filed a petition with the N.C. Utilities Commission asking it to rule that the partnership is lawful, even though third-party sales in North Carolina are not. That’s where the legal lines blur.

Duke’s immovable position is that NC WARN showed “blatant disregard for the law” by setting up the third-party agreement and that it is essentially acting as an unregulated utility. NC WARN argues that by paying the upfront costs of the solar panels and selling electricity to the church for a reduced rate that it is offering a public service and expressly not acting as a utility.

It’s up to the commission to decide whether North Carolina’s law against third-party sales applies when the profit motive is not part of the equation. But even if commissioners do rule in Duke’s favor, it’s hard to see how the massive utility can win the PR battle. The company is certainly not helping its reputation as a monopoly willing to quash any clean energy efforts except its own.

The merits of increasing access to solar speak for themselves. Allowing third-party sales is one of the most successful methods for making renewable electricity more affordable. It increases consumer choice and competition among suppliers, and it has been a boon to the the nation’s clean energy economy.

Third-party sales of electricity are also completely legal in all but four states, including North Carolina, and solar financing arrangements are available to most electricity consumers in the country.

In fact, the N.C. General Assembly had a chance during the legislative session to pass a Republican-sponsored, bipartisan bill to legalize third-party sales that was supported by the solar industry and major employers including Wal-Mart, Lowes and Target. It did not.

In the case of NC WARN versus Duke Energy, the cliche comparisons to David and Goliath would be apt if they weren’t so inadequate. The array on Faith Community’s roof is around five kilowatts. It produces barely enough power to run the church’s central air conditioning for one hour each day, according to NC WARN. Can a company that made nearly $3 billion last year justify imposing a $120,000 fine for what probably amounts to a few hundred dollars of lost sales?

Also, NC WARN has repeatedly called the partnership a “test case” and promises to donate the solar system to the church if the commission decides the partnership isn’t legal — another reason Duke’s request for the fine seems spiteful.

It’s what the group is trying to accomplish that has Duke executives gritting their teeth and telling their lawyers to attack.

Speaking of the benefits of solar, Rev. Nelson Johnson, a co-pastor of the church, told the Greensboro News & Record, “It just makes sense. It makes environmental sense. It makes financial sense. It makes common sense.”

So I suppose it follows that, for all but a few, North Carolina’s law barring third-party sales does not.

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Gov. McCrory signs “Polluter Protection Act”

Monday, October 26th, 2015 - posted by amy
"H765 may well be the worst environmental bill of McCrory's three years as Governor, and yet he has made it law with his signature."

“H765 may well be the worst environmental bill of McCrory’s three years as Governor, and yet he has made it law with his signature.”

Late last Friday afternoon, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law H765, the “Regulatory Reform Act of 2015.”

This massive reform bill is better known as “The Polluter Protection Act” with its plethora of anti-environmental provisions, regulatory rollbacks and giveaways to industry.

According to Environmental Defense Fund Senior Analyst David Kelly:

This legislation is a hodgepodge of short-sighted provisions that allow a more polluted environment, plain and simple. It encourages irresponsible business practices. It insulates polluters from their responsibility to fully clean up contamination they cause. It removes protections for nearly 50,000 miles of streams that supply our drinking water, provide important fish habitat, and help keep our waterways clean and healthy. H765 eliminates sensible safeguards for our air, water, wildlife, and puts the health of our children and families on the hook when polluters should be.

Over the past weeks, thousands of North Carolinians have called or emailed the governor’s office to urge him to veto this bill.So, just how bad is it? Well, for starters, H765:

  • grants immunity to companies from civil penalties and fines that violate environmental laws if they self-report.
  • shields polluter information of its own violations by preventing use of the information in a civil case and in actions to compel cleanup of environmental contamination. More seriously, it would hide evidence from injured neighbors seeking a remedy in court.
  • weakens controls on stormwater pollution along our coasts, putting at risk the water quality that sustains our fisheries and tourism industries.
  • allows removal of air quality monitors in the state not specifically required by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, significantly reducing the number of these important environmental monitoring stations.
  • privatizes wastewater inspection and permitting — previously the duty of local health departments — removing key oversight by environmental health officials.
  • places risk of fees on environmental attorneys: Attorneys representing environmental, civic, and community organizations would be subject to fees if they lose a case against the state, making it harder for community groups to find legal representation to challenge weak state environmental permits and other regulations.

It also eliminates protections for more than half of all of North Carolina streams, threatening downstream drinking water supplies. See the full bill here.

After the passage of H765, Molly Diggins, state director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

H765 may well be the worst environmental bill of McCrory’s three years as Governor, and yet he has made it law with his signature. The Governor missed an opportunity to stand up for clean air, clean water and healthy communities. He also missed the opportunity to stand up for transparency and public process.”

Email Gov. McCrory at or call the governor’s office at (919) 814-2050 and let him know how disappointed you are in his passage of such an environmentally harmful law.

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N.C. General Assembly restricts local governments on fracking

Monday, October 19th, 2015 - posted by interns

By Maggie Simmons

Stokes County, N.C., residents applaud after county commissioners approved a three-year moratorium on fracking. A new state law seeks to invalidate the Stokes ordinance and others like it. Photo by David Dalton of No Fracking in Stokes

Stokes County, N.C., residents applaud after county commissioners approved a three-year moratorium on fracking. A new state law seeks to invalidate the Stokes ordinance and others like it. Photo by David Dalton of No Fracking in Stokes

In the early morning hours of Sept. 30, the North Carolina General Assembly approved Senate Bill 119, which contains a provision that invalidates local ordinances put in place to regulate oil and gas operations.

The provision was added to the legislation just days after commissioners in Stokes County, N.C., unanimously approved a three-year moratorium on fracking.

The provision does not counteract the moratoria already in place in communities across the state, nor does it bar local governments from approving a moratorium. But it does make it easier for the N.C. Oil and Gas Commission to preempt such an ordinance. So it may deter the efforts of some counties aiming to pass similar ordinances, such as Chatham and Lee, which both removed fracking moratoria from their agendas following the approval of Senate Bill 119.

Previously, in order to preempt a local ordinance, state law required the Oil and Gas Commission to determine that it was put in place with the intent to “‘prohibit’ oil and gas exploration, development or production,” according to Richard Whisnant, a professor of public law and policy at the UNC School of Government. “Now, it just has to find that the local action is intended to ‘regulate’ oil and gas.”

At least one legislator regretted his vote in favor of the bill. Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-King, whose district includes Stokes County, voted in favor of the bill under the impression that it covered only technical changes. “Had I known the provision was in there, I wouldn’t have voted for it,” Holloway told reporters.

The provision “was not introduced in any bill during the session, was not germane to [Senate Bill 119], was introduced after the crossover deadline, was never heard in an appropriate committee and was never analyzed for the fiscal burdens it placed on local governments by a fiscal note,” said Ryke Longest, a professor at Duke University School of Law and Nicholas School of the Environment.

“Therefore, this changed language violated the rules which the legislature enacted for itself to govern how it handles legislation,” Longest said. Given the nature of how the provision was added to the bill, a court may have to determine its legality.

According to the text of Senate Bill 119, the provision aims to “maintain a uniform system for the management of oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities.”

Many doubt the provision was included solely for that purpose. Mary Kerley, spokeswoman for No Fracking in Stokes, released a statement condemning the General Assembly’s actions:

“[Stokes County] commissioners listened to the people of both parties and did the right thing. But this sneaky act by the legislature is not just an insult to the people of North Carolina, it also shows yet again that this legislature has no respect for local government. It couldn’t be any clearer that big money and out-of-state interests now own Raleigh, lock, stock and barrel.”

Similar concerns are rippling throughout the state, but some local governments are not backing down. On Tuesday, commissioners in Walnut Cove unanimously voted to hold a public hearing regarding the proposal of a three-year moratorium on fracking.

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Living on Bottled Water

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 - posted by interns

NC Community Struggles with Drinking Well Contamination

By Sarah Kellogg

Bottles of water sit in stacks in Amy Brown’s living room. She is now familiar with how many bottles are needed for each family meal — boiling spaghetti takes four, while only two are needed for rice.

Bottles of water sit in stacks in Amy Brown’s living room. She is now familiar with how many bottles are needed for each family meal — boiling spaghetti takes four, while only two are needed for rice.

Amy Brown is a mother of two raising her children in a small neighborhood of Belmont, N.C., right next to Duke Energy’s G.G. Allen Power Plant. Last spring, her neighbors began receiving letters from the state notifying them that their well water was unsafe to drink or cook with due to unsafe levels of contaminants that can also be found in coal ash. It wasn’t long before Brown received a letter of her own. Prior to the well water tests required by North Carolina’s 2014 Coal Ash Management Act, Brown believed that she was raising her children in a safe, healthy and happy environment.

“Now when I turn on the water,” says Brown, “I turn on fear.”

Drinking water wells in the Belmont neighborhood, like most of the wells tested within 1,000 feet of Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds throughout the state, are contaminated with toxic heavy metals such as hexavalent chromium and vanadium. Hexavalent chromium is a toxic compound, most often formed through industrial processes, that is known to cause cancer. In Belmont, well tests show hexavalent chromium levels ranging from 3.4 times to as much as 71.4 times higher than the state’s allowable standard.

Duke Energy has responded to concerns of residents by providing one gallon of bottled water per person per day. The company refused to answer residents’ questions about the condition of their water, stating only that, “we do not have any reason to believe that the contamination is coming from our coal ash ponds.”

Duke and the state have both tested wells that they claim could not be affected by coal ash in an effort to determine how the high levels of contaminants found in Duke’s neighbors drinking wells compare to other drinking wells in the area. The state tested 24 background wells and published a blog post stating that the levels of vanadium and hexavalent chromium were similar to those nearer to the site. They did not release any data.

In response, Dr. Ken Rudo, North Carolina’s state toxicologist, explained at a community meeting that of the 192 residential wells near Duke’s coal ash ponds tested under the 2014 coal ash law showed unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium, while 74 percent of those wells showed levels higher than the averages found in the 24 background wells tested by the state environmental agency.

In addition, Duke’s groundwater assessment report for the G.G. Allen plant, required by the Coal Ash Management Act and funded by the company, states that the contaminated groundwater coming from Duke’s ash ponds appears to be moving away from neighbors’ wells toward the Catawba River. The study did not include any tests for hexavalent chromium.

Larry Mathis of Belmont, N.C., represents a new statewide coalition of residents affected by coal ash at a September press conference in Raleigh. Rep. Charles Graham of Lumberton, N.C., sponsored the press conference on behalf of Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash. Photo by Marie Garlock

Larry Mathis of Belmont, N.C., represents a new statewide coalition of residents affected by coal ash at a September press conference in Raleigh. Rep. Charles Graham of Lumberton, N.C., sponsored the press conference on behalf of Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash. Photo by Marie Garlock

Many residents and environmental groups question the validity of Duke’s groundwater report.

Brown questions Duke’s claim that the multi-acred plume of groundwater contamination under Duke’s ponds isn’t affecting her well, which is surrounded on 3 sides by the toxic plume. “That must be some pretty smart water,” quipped Brown, “to know to go right up to Duke’s property line, but never cross it.”

Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, has concerns about the location and depth of both the state’s and Duke’s background wells in addition to the company’s analysis of the groundwater flow.

Despite Duke’s assurance that their study is good news for their neighbors in Belmont, residents with contaminated wells are not reassured.

“We are living off bottled water and our property is worth nothing,” says Belmont resident Larry Mathis, whose well tested 26.8 times higher than the state’s standard for hexavalent chromium. “Duke says they’re a good neighbor, but they need to admit they’ve done wrong and step up to do better. It’s not just our house and our land, it’s our home.”

Brown was consistently disappointed by the lack of answers she received from both Duke and state environmental regulators about the safety of her well water. Since receiving her do-not-drink letter, she has worked to connect her entire neighborhood to the resources they need to receive bottled water and organized community meetings with agencies she hoped would give her and her neighbors answers.

“I am my children’s voice and I have a job to do,” she says. “Trust me when I say that I intend to do it well!”

In late September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Duke Energy settled a 15-year lawsuit over the company’s violations of the Clean Air Act. Duke was charged with illegally modifying 13 coal-fired units without installing proper pollution controls or obtaining permits. Of those 13 units, 11 have been shut down, but the remaining two are still operating at the G.G. Allen power plant, raising concerns among residents about how the air pollution may have affected their health.

Adding to those concerns is a recent study published by Duke University which found that coal ash particles are ten times more radioactive than the unburned coal it came from. The study noted that inhaling coal ash could be more harmful than previously thought because radioactivity is concentrated in the small particles.

Duke Energy and the state have yet to make any decisions about how to address the coal ash at G.G. Allen, and neighbors are left to wonder what will come of their homes and their lives.

As Brown put it, “How much more of a prisoner can I feel like in my home, when Duke has contaminated my air and my water?”

For the latest on coal ash, visit our Cleaning Up Coal Ash campaign.

Communities Coming Together To Clean Up Coal Ash

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 - posted by interns

At the General Assembly building in downtown Raleigh, N.C., community organizations and residents concerned about coal ash cleanup held a press conference on Sept. 23 announcing the formation of the Alliance for Carolinians Together (A.C.T.) Against Coal Ash.

This new statewide grassroots organization — supported by Appalachian Voices — represents groups impacted by coal ash from across North Carolina. The A.C.T. alliance demands that N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and other state decision-makers hold Duke Energy accountable for its leaking coal ash containment pits and that decisions about cleanup options include the voices of impacted residents in a transparent process.

We are proud to work alongside our partners to help low-income and minority communities fight to clean up the coal ash pits that are literally leaking in their backyards and polluting their water.

For more information about A.C.T. and our work to clean up coal ash, visit

Intersex Fish Found in N.C. Waterways

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 - posted by interns

By Elizabeth E. Payne

Researchers from North Carolina State University recently announced that more than half of the male black bass tested in rivers across North Carolina exhibited female characteristics, particularly the formation of egg cells in their testes.

Once published, their study will add to the evidence that intersex traits are appearing in fish nationwide. A 2009 U.S. Geological Survey study found that 91 percent of the largemouth bass sampled from the Yadkin-Pee Dee River in North Carolina exhibited such traits, the highest instance of any sample across the nation.

Scientists have linked these characteristics to the presence of endocrine disrupting compounds, particularly estrogens. In both humans and animals, the glands and hormones that make up the endocrine system regulate important functions such as growth, metabolism and reproduction. Endocrine disruptors interfere with naturally occurring hormones, potentially causing adverse effects.

According to a related study by NCSU researchers, these natural or synthetic compounds can often be traced to “municipal and agricultural waste flows” that enter waterways. Such compounds can include human contraceptives and growth hormones fed to animals, as well as pesticides that interrupt reproductive cycles.

“The results are worrisome,” Crystal S. Lee Pow, an NSCU doctoral student working on this study, told Environmental Health News. “Males are crucial for hatching success, and their male behavior could be altered by exposure to contaminants and the presence of the intersex condition.”

Natural Gas Pipelines Encroach on Appalachia

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

In August, a West Virginia circuit court judge ruled in favor of Bryan and Doris McCurdy of Greenville, W. Va., denying the Mountain Valley Pipeline project access to their private property to conduct a survey. This proposed natural gas pipeline would stretch 300 miles from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia, but the judge ruled that the pipeline operators “failed to establish that the project would provide sufficient public use to justify entering private property without an owner’s permission,” according to an article by the Associated Press.

Another proposed natural gas project, Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, officially applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September for permission to begin construction on a 564-mile pipeline that would extend from north-central West Virginia, across Virginia and into North Carolina. The project is expected to cost $5.1 billion.
— By Elizabeth E. Payne

Two steps forward, one step back on coal ash in N.C.

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 - posted by Ridge Graham


Communities impacted by coal ash celebrated a pair of positive strides recently, only to be disappointed by another fast move on the part of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and Duke Energy.

One step forward …

On September 23, community organizations and residents advocating for coal ash cleanup held a press conference at the General Assembly building in downtown Raleigh to announce the formation of the Alliance of Carolinians Together (A.C.T.) Against Coal Ash. Media covering the conference came from the Greensboro Triad, the Raleigh Triangle and Charlotte, with TV and print news both represented.

The new grassroots alliance demands that the DEQ and state decision-makers hold Duke Energy financially accountable for dealing with its leaking coal ash pits across the state in a long-term, safe manner, and that the company remediate the contamination of groundwater and residential property. The alliance also calls for the assessment of the environmental and health effects of coal ash to be transparent.

Duke Energy’s official response was to state that their site evaluations indicate that groundwater is generally flowing away from public wells, and that the presence of a toxic chemical, vanadium, is naturally occurring—even at levels 38 times higher than allowable concentrations, as was recently discovered in a privately owned well near Duke’s G.G. Allen power plant.

Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County.

Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County.

As Larry Mathis, president of the homeowner’s association near the Allen plant, asked: “Trust them? I think not.”

>> Watch a video of the conference here.

Another step forward …

On Monday night, the Stokes County Commission held a public hearing on a proposed moratorium on fracking in the county. Community members packed the courthouse, and almost all who spoke favored the moratorium. The commissioners, noting the environmental and public threat already in the county due to Duke Energy’s coal ash pits at the Belews power plant, unanimously voted for a three-year moratorium on fracking. Although not an outright ban, the moratorium prohibits zoning permits from being filed and any resulting violations will result in a $500 per day fine. Their decision was celebrated with tears, hugs and a standing ovation from those in attendance.

And a step back …

Just yesterday, however, DEQ was patting itself on the back with the announcement of a settlement with Duke Energy, which will pay a fine of $7 million for groundwater contamination related to the utility’s coal ash pits. The fine is much less than the $25 million the DEQ originally sought for pollution violations at Duke’s Sutton Lake power plant outside of Wilmington, N.C. In addition, the $7 million will be spread between all of Duke’s 14 power plants in the state coming to just $500,000 per site for cleanup of groundwater contamination.

The DEQ says the settlement will accelerate the cleanup at the Belews and Sutton sites. But, as outlined in the Coal Ash Management Act, Duke Energy is already required to accelerate the cleanups since coal ash contamination was found outside of their property boundary. This toothless P.R. move meant to show that DEQ is being tough on Duke Energy has potentially detrimental consequences for N.C. residents. Frank Holleman, of the Southern Environmental Law Center, points to Duke’s statements regarding the settlement as intention to prevent any further action brought against the utility giant.

As Bobby Jones of the Downeast Coal Ash Coalition said during last week’s press conference launching the A.C.T. Against Coal Ash: “This is not something where we can drop a few million dollars and make some nice newsreels and it will go away.”

NCDENR needs to step up

Friday, September 18th, 2015 - posted by tom

Each month, Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons reflects on issues of importance to our supporters and to the region.

Amy Brown is a mother of two living in the small community of Belmont, N.C. One of her neighbors is the G.G. Allen Steam Station, a facility owned by Duke Energy that includes a coal-fired power plant and two massive coal ash pits. This spring, she got a letter from the utility warning her not to use her tap water for drinking or cooking because of contamination, one of nearly 300 people around the state to get such letters. She and her family are now living day to day on bottled water.

Watch this short video about Amy’s story:

Toxins found in coal ash like arsenic and selenium can have dangerous health consequences when they leak into water supplies. And a study out this month shows that coal ash can be five times more radioactive than average U.S. soil.

Since the catastrophe in February 2014 that spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River near the border of North Carolina and Virginia, there’s been much foot-dragging and finger-pointing between Duke, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and state lawmakers about what to do with the massive amounts of coal ash sitting in leaking pits around the state.

But, due largely to public pressure, some progress has been made. A state law passed last year requires, among other things, the cleanup of four sites that pose a high threat. And Duke recently proposed cleaning up three additional sites that its studies showed are priorities for excavation.

So it was an Orwellian turn of events when DENR asked the courts to disallow Duke’s plan. DENR is the very entity entrusted with defending public health and the environment from pollution.

Then again, this is a so-called “new and improved” agency under the McCrory administration, aiming to serve large corporations as its primary “customers.” As Appalachian Voices’ Amy Adams noted in an op-ed in the News & Observer, DENR is contorting its own mission statement to avoid responsibility. It says it applies science to policy but refuses to see the facts. It says it wants to be a “resource of invaluable public assistance,” and yet refuses to assist the people living near the three sites Duke is willing to clean up.

Earlier this week, the courts rejected DENR’s attempt to block the cleanup. That’s a loud voice joining the statewide chorus of citizens like Amy Brown, public interest groups like Appalachian Voices, and many others calling on DENR to do its job and fix this problem.