Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Yinan Chen; photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Copyright Yinan Chen; photo from Wikimedia Commons.


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

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

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

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

Hey Duke Energy – Buy a Bigger Dump Truck!

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 - posted by matt

The Perfect Solution to North Carolina’s Coal Ash Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dump_truck_for_duke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 - posted by cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the state falters, local governments support coal ash cleanup

Friday, June 20th, 2014 - posted by amy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “strict proposal” that should be stronger

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 - posted by brian

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

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Carolina “off the sidelines” to fast-track fracking

Thursday, June 5th, 2014 - posted by brian

Four months after a massive coal ash spill devastated the Dan River, and before the state has remedied its coal ash problem, North Carolina is poised to open a new can of worms.

Fracking operations like this on in Texas could soon spring up in North Carolina after Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill lifting the state's moratorium on natural gas drilling. Photo by Daniel Foster/Creative Commons.

Fracking operations like this one in Texas could soon spring up in North Carolina after Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill lifting the state’s moratorium on natural gas drilling. Photo by Daniel Foster/Creative Commons.

On Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Energy Modernization Act, lifting a moratorium on natural gas drilling in the state.

With few obstacles left in the way, test drilling to assess the amount of gas in the state’s Piedmont could occur this fall and fracking could officially begin in North Carolina by spring 2015.

Before reaching the governor’s desk, the legislation was rushed through the state House and Senate and ratified in the course of about 48 hours. The 26-page bill covers everything from exploration and permitting to reclamation and severance taxes.

Now that the bill is law, state-issued drilling permits could come sooner than the legislature previously promised. Oil and gas companies can now receive permits 60 days after the state Mining and Energy Commission’s proposed regulatory program is finalized, even though lawmakers originally said the rules would be reviewed before any subsequent legislation or vote to lift the moratorium took place.

Until recently, North Carolina had no reason to regulate oil and gas drilling, and the rules announced so far align closely with industry interests such as Halliburton and the American Legislative Exchange Council that have put external pressure on the commission.

Gov. McCrory likes to say that North Carolina has been on the sidelines of the U.S. gas boom, spectating while other states reap the economic benefits that can result from rampant natural gas development. But fracking has also burdened communities with the risk of water contamination, air pollution and other environmental and health hazards.

Apparently taking those well-established consequences into account, Gov. McCrory claims North Carolina has learned from other states’ experiences. “The expansion of our energy sector will not come at a cost to our precious environment,” the governor said in a statement. “This legislation has the safeguards to protect the high quality of life we cherish.”

As reassuring as that may sound, the push over the past few years to begin fracking has been mired in the types of missteps, broken promises and conflicts of interest considered characteristic of the state’s leadership of late.

Potential natural gas drilling sites and drinking water supplies. Graphic by Southern Environmental Law Center. Click to enlarge.

Potential natural gas drilling sites and drinking water supplies. Graphic by Southern Environmental Law Center.

The passage of the Energy Modernization Act, viewed as the beginning of the end to the General Assembly’s quest to see drilling begin in North Carolina, is both evidence and a direct result of that process. And a host of provisions that did make it into the final bill seem built to incent natural gas companies to operate in North Carolina.

One provision in the original Senate version would have made it a felony to disclose potentially harmful chemicals used in the drilling process. The penalty was reduced to a misdemeanor in the final bill, but it could still come with jail time, and even in cases of emergency, first responders would have to enter a strict confidentially agreement with permit holders before sharing information about chemicals or health concerns.

The novel approach to protect a company’s frack fluid recipe isn’t all that novel. It’s similar to a section of Pennsylvania’s Act 13, a law passed in 2012. Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, a Pennsylvania physician specializing in renal diseases, sued the state over its “medical gag order,” which he says abridges his freedom to communicate with his patients and colleagues about fracking chemicals and the health hazards they present to the public. That case went to the state Supreme Court last year.

Like Pennsylvania and other states, North Carolina’s new fracking law prohibits local ordinances that would restrict drilling because it is “the intent of the General Assembly to maintain a uniform system” for fracking statewide. But similar language was struck from Pennsylvania’s laws, and is being challenged in New York.

Less publicized sections of the bill are no less dubious. Our friends at the N.C. Conservation Network who’ve been tracking the issue closely have a helpful breakdown of the bill, which they say does not address the most significant risks fracking poses to our health, communities and the environment.

While most of the attention on fracking in North Carolina is currently on a handful of counties in the Piedmont, the mountains of western North Carolina are not off-limits to gas exploration and drilling in the future. The state plans to analyze rock samples from seven western counties to determine whether there is retrievable gas under North Carolina’s mountains.

The challenges associated with regulating fracking can be as prevalent as the threats that come with it. Across the country, state agencies that regulate oil and gas drilling are spread thin. With recent cuts to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it’s hard to believe North Carolina would be any different.

The proposed 2014 N.C. Senate budget includes $1.7 million to support oil and gas activities. Nearly a million dollars would be used for additional geological and geophysical analysis of the shale basins in the state and $100,000 of what’s left would be spent to market the state’s untapped shale gas resources. At least this time around, funding for additional agency staff is mostly directed to meet another desperate need: monitoring and better regulating coal ash ponds. But those funds are contingent on Gov. McCrory’s coal ash bill passing.

Poorly regulated, fracking poses intractable risks to water, air and human health – all of which have been demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt. It’s happening in Appalachian states including Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, with operations concentrated in rural, agricultural and coal-mining communities, where residents rely on private well water for drinking and irrigation. And it is creating strife in communities just as other destructive methods of resource extraction such as mountaintop removal coal mining have for decades.

Now, when they should be more concerned with improving rules to protect clean water and remedying coal ash pollution, state policymakers are luring gas companies to North Carolina and welcoming fracking with open arms.

Read more of our coverage of fracking in Appalachia from the Front Porch Blog and The Appalachian Voice.

At What Cost?

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

Community Living with High Rates of Cancer and Disease Unites to Advocate for Coal Ash Cleanup

By Sarah Kellogg

Danielle Bailey-Lash (left) sits with her childhood friend Caroline Armijo at a recent paddle and picnic event to raise awareness about coal ash in the Belews Creek community. The friends are both featured in Appalachian Voices' new video "At What Cost?" Hear their stories about living with coal ash at appvoices.org/coalash

Danielle Bailey-Lash (left) sits with her childhood friend Caroline Armijo at a recent paddle and picnic event to raise awareness about coal ash in the Belews Creek community. The friends are both featured in Appalachian Voices’ new video “At What Cost?” Hear their stories about living with coal ash at appvoices.org/coalash

Annie Brown, a lifelong resident of Belews Creek (pronounced “Blues”) in Stokes County, N.C., sits outside a small brick church. She’s looking at a patch of tiny flowers, trying to pick out the odd five-petaled bloom. Her grandmother taught her long ago that five-petaled flowers are good luck, even better than finding a four-leaf clover. Brown and others in the rural community — where folks all know each other and fondly recall growing up together — have been praying for better luck for years. Lurking just down the street from their homes is the Duke Energy Belews Creek Steam Station and the largest toxic coal ash pond in the state.

Duke Energy began operating the Belews Creek Station in 1974, and over time the company has built six coal ash dumps to store the waste — a byproduct of burning coal — including the massive pond that holds more than 8 billion gallons of coal ash and water.

Brown, who lives two miles down the street from the power plant, started getting sick when she was 22. She remembers the ash that used to come out of the stacks and land on her car, eating away the paint. “Nobody had informed us of any toxics,” she says, “It was just floating in the air, my kids were out playing in it.”

Concerns about Duke’s toxic coal ash have prompted Brown and dozens of other community members to meet regularly at Forest Chapel Church. Since July 2013, the community has gathered with Appalachian Voices’ staff and volunteers to discuss the coal ash and how to get it out of their neighborhood once and for all. The group, which calls itself “Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup,” has recently grown in size, becoming more outspoken and more certain of their demands.

Doris Smith, a resident of Belews Creek for 70 years, has been with the group since the beginning. She is a fiery woman who frequently walks door-to-door in her neighborhood, raising awareness about the risks the coal ash dumps pose to the community. “We have to think about our children and our grandchildren,” she declares. “It’s not so much about me or my husband; it’s about them. If we don’t do something about it, who will?”

Another life-long resident of Belews Creek, Danielle Bailey-Lash started attending community meetings a few months ago at the urging of a friend. An otherwise healthy woman, Bailey-Lash was diagnosed with stage 3 brain cancer at age 35. After finding a tumor the size of a juice box, the doctors told her she only had a few months to live. Luckily, Bailey-Lash beat the odds — and her cancer. “It’s always on my mind,” she says as she pulls her hair back to reveal where a piece of skull is missing. “I would never want for my children or my neighbors to have to go through this.”

Bailey-Lash, like others in the community, is concerned that the unusually high rates of cancer and other rare illnesses in a 10-mile radius around the power plant may be a result of the thousands of pounds of toxic pollution that Duke’s Belews Creek plant releases into the air and water every year.

“Since I started going to the meetings,” says Bailey-Lash, “I’ve realized that my illness, and the illness of all the people that are on this street … could be linked to the environmental issues we’ve discovered are right here in our own neighborhood.”

Doctors have never been able to explain Annie Brown’s illness, which left her with a twisted hand that she cannot use. However, after reading about the health problems that the pollutants in coal ash can cause, Brown feels there must be a connection. Her daughter has also suffered from many inexplicable illnesses, despite living an otherwise healthy life. When Brown comes to meetings, she often brings a notebook with a list of residents on her street who have fallen ill or died prematurely. “I know them personally,” she says, looking over the list containing more than 30 names. “Young people, coming down with strange illnesses, like kidney cancer. Three young people, already on oxygen.”

Members of Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup regularly express a distrust for Duke Energy and the state. They say that Duke and its state regulators are not doing enough to protect their community or health. Mary-Frances Wrenn, one of the group’s members, says she won’t drink her well water, which has taken on a black color since the power plant began operation. “I buy bottled water,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t trust it.”

Since the February coal ash spill into the Dan River brought national attention to the coal ash problem in North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory, state legislators, and Duke Energy have responded to the public pressure in various ways. So far, all the proposed coal ash cleanup plans leave Belews Creek out.

“I’m asking Duke Power to please step up,” says Smith. “They’ve had 40 years to make this mess, so why not clean it now?”

Residents in Belews say they are tired of buying bottled water and enduring the ash trucks that speed down their roads, releasing sticky black particles when the wind blows. At a recent community meeting, members raised concerns that a dam could break, releasing thousands of tons of ash onto their homes or into the Dan River. McKinley Warren, a resident who previously worked for Duke Energy, explained to the group that the coal ash landfills are only about 100 feet from the Dan.

The residents of Belews Creek are not the only community at risk from Duke Energy’s coal ash. Duke owns thirteen other power plants across North Carolina, all with massive coal ash ponds that are illegally polluting groundwater. Increasingly, the communities surrounding these toxic dumps are also speaking out about health issues.

The Yadkin Riverkeeper, Dean Naujoks, works with the community surrounding Duke’s Buck Steam Plant in Rowan County. Like Belews Creek, the Buck community has also experienced unusually high rates of cancer and has not been mentioned in any clean-up plans.

“Our recent well testing seems to suggest chemicals found in coal ash may be contributing to cancer clusters found in the community,” says Naujoks. “No one should ever have to live in fear of their health being compromised or drinking water from their own private wells.”

Back in Belews Creek, Annie Brown — a peaceful woman despite the illnesses she and her family have suffered — has one simple request: “I would like for Duke Power to take some interest in the human life.”

Watch “At What Cost?” video here.

More Than a Market

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Megan Northcote

Families with young children particularly enjoy special event days at the Chattanooga Market, which offer sample tastings of seasonal produce, such as strawberries. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Farmers Market.

Families with young children particularly enjoy special event days at the Chattanooga Market, which offer sample tastings of seasonal produce, such as strawberries. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Farmers Market

Shopping for fresh, locally grown foods at farmers markets is always a refreshing way to find healthy foods while supporting the community. But in recent years, some farmers markets have transformed from grocery store alternatives to tourist destinations, featuring cooking and artisan demonstrations, hands-on healthy living activities for children, and food and farm festivals for all ages. While similarly innovative markets are popping up across the Appalachian region, these eight family-friendly markets offer a small taste of the kinds of educational entertainment that’s enticing both visitors and locals to spend a fun-filled day at the market.

Morgantown Farmers Market – W.Va.

Housed in a new pavilion, this innovative market is celebrating the opening of a grant-funded culinary station that will host healthy cooking classes and demonstrations. Youngsters can enjoy a new 10-week kids’ club called “POP” (Power of Produce), which provides each child with $2 in weekly market tokens and culminates in a healthy eating activity. Different fitness activities, including a yoga flash mob, belly dancing, and hula hooping sessions keep the grown-ups in shape too. Local musicians and nonprofit booths create a lively, atmosphere. Morgantown Market Place, 415 Spruce St. Open: May 3 – early Nov., Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. – noon. Visit: morgantownfarmers.org or call (304) 993-2410

Photo courtesy of Lexington Farmers Market

Photo courtesy of Lexington Farmers Market

Lexington Farmers Market – Ky.

Open since 1975, Lexington’s Saturday market in the heart of downtown features more than 60 vendors and draws more than 5,000 visitors during peak season. Each week, the Homegrown Authors series features talks and book signings by local writers. Monthly favorites include chef demonstrations led by local culinary students and an area master gardener information booth. Each week, different organizations host children’s activities, including arts and crafts and pony rides, along with live local music. Cheapside Park. Open: Saturdays, Spring-Fall, 7 a.m.-2p.m., Winter 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Visit: lexingtonfarmersmarket.com or call (859) 608-2655

Downtown Hickory Farmers Market – N.C.

This year, a new Thursday evening summer market, Tastin’, Tunes & Tomatoes, along with the city’s widely popular Saturday market, offers chef demonstrations as well as clogging, music and healthy food scavenger hunts for children. Wind down after the Saturday market with yoga at Union Square or grab a bite at a downtown restaurant. On June 12, Thursday’s market will host Schmoozapalooza, featuring 50 additional vendors as well as beer, wine and food sampling. Union Square, downtown Hickory. Open: April 16-Nov. 1, Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m; and June 5-Aug. 28, Thursdays, 5-8 p.m. Visit: hickoryfarmersmarket.com or call (828) 306-6508

Chattanooga Farmers Market – Tenn.

Now in its 13th season, Chattanooga’s bustling market has exploded into one of the biggest in the region with more than 800 vendors drawing as many as 1,300 people each Sunday. Each market is themed and includes two free music concerts, 20 food trucks and numerous chef demonstrations. During June and July, foodie festivals abound, honoring the blueberry, tomato and peach as well as the Chattanooga Street Food Festival on June 22. Beat the heat at the July 13 Ice Cream Social where $5 buys five scoops from local creameries with proceeds benefiting a community childcare center. 1829 Carter St., Open: April 27- Nov. 23. Sundays, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit: chattanoogamarket.com or call 423-648-2496

Independence Farmers Market – Va.

Almost every Friday in the summer, this southwestern Virginia market hosts family-friendly special event days. At Dairy Day on June 13, youngsters can learn how to milk a cow. In July, build a vegetable vehicle to enter in the zucchini car races, or challenge the family to a pie-eating contest at Berry Fest on July 18. Enjoy monthly fiber and beekeeping demonstrations as well as chef presentations during the first market of the month and free kids activities at every market. McKnight Park, Hwy. 21 and 58 intersection. Open: May-Oct., Friday, 9 a.m.-2p.m. Visit: independencefarmersmarket.org or call (276) 655-4045

The Wild Ramp – W.Va.
This 125-vendor indoor farmers market in Huntington, W.Va., will more than double in size when it moves into the Old Central City Market building this summer. Staffed by volunteers, the year-round consignment market affords farmers more time for the harvest. Vendors can lead monthly classes about canning, cooking, herbal recipes, cheese making and more. Nonprofits lead various children’s activities, such as making seed bombs. In June, enjoy a grand opening celebration during Old Central City Days, featuring food, music and antiques. 555 14th St., Huntington. Open: year-round, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit: wildramp.org or call (304) 523-7267

Charlottesville City Market – Va.

With more than 100 vendors, this downtown market is a bustling hub of seasonal cooking and artisan demonstrations accented by music. Chef Mark Gresge of l’etoile restaurant leads culinary workshops throughout the summer and food preservation classes later in the season. Ten community partners offer numerous children’s activities. The annual Labor Day weekend Farm Tour, sponsored by the nonprofit Market Central, is an excellent opportunity to explore more than 20 vendors’ farms by car. Corner of Water St. and South St. Open: Saturdays, April-Oct., 7 a.m. – noon, Nov.-Dec., 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Visit: charlottesville.org or call (434) 970-3371

Asheville City Market – N.C.

Situated in the heart of the city’s thriving local food scene, Asheville’s eclectic Charlotte St. market attracts hundreds of foodies craving monthly cooking demonstrations. Every Saturday, the Growing Minds @ Market booth hosts a nonprofit to engage children in exercise and food-related arts and crafts. A strawberry summer festival features samples of creative berry recipes, while the Market Meal Challenge in late June awards prizes to the healthiest shopper. Live local music as well as healthy living booths round out the weekly experience. 161 S. Charlotte St. Open: April 5 – Dec. 20, Saturdays, 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. Visit: asapconnections.org or call (828) 348-0340

N.C. General Assembly to Consider Coal Ash

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Brian Sewell

In the first North Carolina legislative session since a Duke Energy coal ash pond spilled 39,000 tons of toxic ash into the Dan River, two lawmakers introduced a bill based on Gov. Pat McCrory’s coal ash cleanup proposal. The governor’s proposal mirrors previous recommendations made by the utility itself, and State Senator Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) has said McCrory’s plan does not go far enough. Apodaca plans to introduce a separate bill, and other lawmakers have also discussed legislation.

Disagreement regarding coal ash management also surfaced amongst shareholders at Duke Energy’s annual meeting. More than 200 protesters gathered outside to denounce the utility’s plan to charge customers for the cost of cleaning up all but two of its coal ash ponds. The estimated costs range from $5 billion to $10 billion, which could raise average household bills by more than $20 per month.

Kentucky Pipeline Proposal Suspended

The controversial Bluegrass Pipeline project lost its luster in April after the project’s backers suspended investment due to a lack of customers to buy the natural gas liquids the pipeline promised to carry. The Williams Company previously said it would put the project on hold for a year while it looked for customers.

Obama Unveils Efforts to Expand Solar Efficiency

President Obama directed the U.S. Department of Energy to improve efficiency in affordable housing, set stronger efficiency standards for commercial appliances and strengthen building codes. The Energy Department will also expand the Solar Instructor Training Network through community colleges with a goal of training 50,000 workers by 2020.

Doubts Follow Elk River Contamination

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Kimber Ray

Four months after a Freedom Industries chemical tank contaminated the water of approximately 300,000 West Virginia residents this past January, only 36 percent of those residents were drinking their tap water, according a survey released in May by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

The affected private utility, West Virginia American Water Company, is under investigation by the West Virginia Public Service Commission regarding its response to the spill. A hearing is scheduled for October.

The chemical spill revealed that West Virginia American Water has no backup water intake supply for its principle distribution center. State environmental officials have proposed that the Kanawha River — of which the Elk River is a tributary — be designated as a potential drinking water source. Approval of the proposal during the 2015 legislative session would create tougher pollution controls on the Kanawha. In the long term, this would make it possible for West Virginia American Water to establish a second intake at the location.

Water quality and other environmental regulations have long been contentious issues in West Virginia. According to a 2012 study in Environmental Science and Technology, approximately 25 percent of the state’s surface water is contaminated by mountaintop removal coal mining. The chemical that contaminated the Elk River in January, MCHM, is used in coal processing. Following the spill, a state review uncovered three coal companies’ facilities discharging trace amounts of MCHM into nearby waterways. Two of those companies have since discontinued their use of the chemical.

This April, both Ohio and North Carolina began accepting wastewater contaminated with MCHM by the Elk River spill. Between the two states, more than 225,000 gallons of contaminated stormwater runoff will be treated, and an additional 50,000 gallons of wastewater from Freedom Industries’ storage tanks and the Elk River has been injected into hazardous waste wells in Ohio.