Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

North Carolina’s reckless approach to the Clean Power Plan: Part 3

Thursday, January 14th, 2016 - posted by rory

Editors’ Note: This is the final installment of a three-part series on the Front Porch this week about North Carolina and the Clean Power Plan. Tomorrow, Jan. 15, is the final day for North Carolinians to demand that the state Department of Environmental Quality abandon its efforts to block the Clean Power Plan and develop a real clean energy plan. Add your voice here.

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We’re proud to finalize our historic Clean Power Plan. It will give our kids and grandkids the cleaner, safer future they deserve. The United States is leading by example today, showing the world that climate action is an incredible economic opportunity to build a stronger foundation for growth.

This is how U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy described her agency’s Clean Power Plan in August of 2015 when it announced the final rule. With this statement, she summed up in simple terms the moral and economic basis for the plan.

By shifting our nation away from the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation, requiring (for the most part) the development of cleaner energy sources, and providing an incentive for making our homes, businesses and industrial plants more energy efficient, the Clean Power Plan will help clean up our air and water, reduce health impacts associated with fossil fuel pollution, lower energy costs, and accelerate economic growth in the clean energy sector. These benefits will be experienced not only nationwide, but globally, and far outweigh the anticipated cost of compliance.

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This is a momentous opportunity for all of us. But, many of our leaders choose to defend the status quo, whether for political reasons or to keep the checks coming in from dirty energy campaign donations, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that, instead of leveraging the Clean Power Plan as a means for building on the environmental and economic gains associated with the surge in clean energy development over the past decade, these leaders are choosing to fight the EPA through litigation, and are even going so far as to develop a compliance plan that is intended to fail. This path is a reckless one, and it is the path being taken in North Carolina by Gov. Pat McCrory and Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart. Unless we make our voices heard (by Friday, Jan. 15!!), North Carolina’s families, economy and environment could all lose out.

Fortunately, all across the state North Carolinians are speaking up and demanding that the administration develop a real plan for meeting EPA’s carbon-reduction targets while achieving a clean energy future for our state. Those targets seem easily achievable by the 2030 deadline, as illustrated by the following.

  1. If NC chooses a rate-based plan: The emissions rate target for North Carolina requires a 32% decrease in carbon pollution for each megawatt-hour generated; the state is projected to achieve nearly 80 percent of that goal by 2020 even without the Clean Power Plan, leaving the state with a full decade to achieve the remaining 20 percent improvement in emissions rates.
  2. If NC chooses a mass-based plan: Based on planned coal-fired power plant retirements and projected increases in clean energy development resulting from the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), North Carolina is expected to exceed its required emissions reduction target of 7.3 million tons of carbon dioxide by 33 percent by 2020.
  3. Over the seven-year period between 2005 and 2012, North Carolina reduced its carbon emissions from electricity generation by 23 percent (note: 2012 is the year EPA used as a baseline for calculating emissions reduction targets for states). By comparison, EPA is requiring the state to achieve an additional 12.5 percent reduction in carbon emissions over the next 14 years — half of the reductions in twice the time.
  4. The REPS, enacted in 2008, requires North Carolina’s investor-owned electric utilities (e.g., Duke Energy) to provide 12.5 percent of their power from renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2021 (a year prior to the first year of the CPP compliance period). For public power utilities, the target is 10 percent by 2018. Without the Clean Power Plan, the contribution of clean energy sources to North Carolina’s energy mix will more than double by 2022, having a substantial impact on reducing carbon emissions.

Meeting EPA’s targets for North Carolina is a lot easier than Governor McCrory, Secretary van der Vaart and their supporters would have us believe, and the economic and environmental benefits of using the Clean Power Plan as a vehicle for expanding North Carolina’s clean energy economy are evidenced by the gains we’ve already achieved. Just imagine what a doubling of the state’s clean energy economy could mean over the next six years, much less the next 14 years. And the EPA has made it as easy as possible to get there by providing all states with flexible options for meeting the targets, allowing for state and regional collaboration and developing a Clean Energy Incentive Program that incentivizes early action on renewable energy development and energy efficiency for low-income communities.

Rather than continuing with their political jockeying and pandering to special (read: fossil fuel) interests, North Carolina’s leaders should instead see the Clean Power Plan for the momentous opportunity it represents and develop a compliance plan that maximizes the potential benefits for North Carolina’s economy, environment and public health.

To that end, as part of our comments on the state’s current “plan to fail,” Appalachian Voices calls on North Carolina to develop a plan that:

  • Meets or exceeds EPA’s required targets for North Carolina;
  • Is based on an inclusive and participatory stakeholder process to allow for community input on the development of the state plan as it is being developed; rather than after the state has already drafted the plan;
  • Prioritizes renewable energy and energy efficiency over approaches that continue our reliance on fossil-fuels;
    Commits North Carolina to participating in the Clean Energy Incentive Program and prioritize renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that benefit low-income communities; and,
  • Generates revenue from the allowances or credits created by emissions reductions or emissions rate improvements, and reinvest those revenues in additional clean energy projects with priority given to low-income community projects.

It is our duty to hold our elected leaders and their agency officials accountable to our future. We are calling for a plan that strives for social and economic equity, environmental justice and clean energy for all. The Clean Power Plan and the development of state plans to comply represent one of those moments that could determine the course of history for the current and future generations. Make your voice heard by 5 p.m. tomorrow, January 15.

North Carolina’s reckless approach to the Clean Power Plan: Part 1

Monday, January 11th, 2016 - posted by rory

Editors’ Note: This is the first of three posts in a series that we’ll share this week about North Carolina and the Clean Power Plan. Friday is the final day for North Carolinians to demand the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality abandon its efforts to block the Clean Power Plan. Add your voice here | Read part 2.

Concept graphic from iStock images by Appalachian Voices staff

Concept graphic from iStock images by Appalachian Voices staff.

North Carolina’s elected leaders and agency officials, with little say from the citizens they represent, have placed us on a reckless course in regard to our future energy mix and our ability as a state to determine that future.

But together we can change that.

Appalachian Voices, as part of a wide network of organizations and citizens from across the state, is working hard to convince North Carolina’s decision makers to change course and chart a path that meets or exceeds the federal government’s requirements for our state under the Clean Power Plan.

Back in October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the final rule for the Clean Power Plan — a new regulation that requires states to achieve specific targets for reducing carbon emissions from electric generating power plants by 2030. States may choose either to improve the average emissions per-unit of electricity generated, a “rate-based” approach, or to develop a plan for reducing overall emissions, a “mass-based” approach.

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The Clean Power Plan provides states with flexibility in determining how they will achieve their specific targets, and even incentivizes the early development of programs that will result in renewable energy generation or energy efficiency gains for low-income communities. For North Carolina, the rate-based approach would require a 32 percent improvement in emissions rate by 2030 for an overall 12.5 percent reduction in annual carbon emissions.

While many states are legally challenging the EPA’s authority to enact the Clean Power Plan, most of those states are still moving ahead and developing plans that meet EPA’s requirements. North Carolina, on the other hand, has wasted taxpayer dollars by developing a plan that the government admits is designed to fail.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s “plan to fail” focuses only on four coal-fired power plants while requiring nothing of the state’s natural gas plants. The “plan to fail” also fails to even mention renewable energy or energy efficiency. Despite the EPA’s requirements, the “plan” was developed without any stakeholder input; the state only involved stakeholders during a series of three public hearings that came after the plan had already been developed.

DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart falsely justifies the agency’s plan by stating that the EPA does not have the legal authority to require anything other than what the state plan addresses, which is emissions reductions for coal-fired power plants. This is problematic because if the state ends up being wrong, as numerous legal analyses show it is, then the EPA will impose its federal plan on North Carolina.

Given the current attitude of our state’s leaders toward clean energy and environmental protection, this may prove to be a blessing. It would be a far more preferable approach, however, if state officials were to develop a plan that reflects the desires of North Carolinians, and that builds upon the substantial growth in the clean energy economy that the state has experienced over the past seven years.

For now, the state’s “plan” achieves less than 3 percent of the total reduction in annual carbon emissions required by EPA and does nothing to advance the state’s clean energy economy. It also leaves the citizens and businesses of our great state vulnerable to the inevitable increase in energy costs resulting from a continued reliance on fossil fuels and a federally imposed compliance plan.

North Carolina can do better. It should do better. And millions of North Carolina residents need their leaders to lead and chart a path toward a clean energy future, instead of setting us on a crash course that will have severe economic and environmental consequences.

A state compliance plan that focuses more on renewable energy and energy efficiency can create tens of thousands of jobs and help alleviate poverty while improving air and water quality for us all. Failing short of that will halt seven years of progress in clean energy development, leave us vulnerable to future contamination of our air and waterways from fossil fuel generation and coal ash disposal, and likely result in higher energy bills that negatively affect everyone — especially those already struggling to afford their energy bills.

Appalachian Voices is calling on North Carolinians to let the DEQ know that we won’t stand for its recklessness. Take a moment to comment on the state’s “plan to fail” and let the administration know that we need a clean energy future. The deadline to comment is this Friday, Jan. 15.

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Statewide citizens group slams North Carolina’s coal ash pond rankings

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016 - posted by cat

Contact:
Statewide and Eastern North Carolina: Bobby Jones (919) 394-0727
Western North Carolina: Jeri Cruz-Segarra (828) 651-9576
Charlotte Area: Amy Brown (704) 301-6209
Winston-Salem Area: David Hairston (336) 655- 3413, Caroline Armijo (919) 358-5057

An alliance of North Carolinians directly impacted or threatened by Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution today released its Unifying Principles demanding that Duke Energy and state decision makers work closely with North Carolina communities to ensure they are compensated for damages to their property and health and protected from future harm. The release comes just days after the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality proposed delayed cleanup of 24 of Duke’s coal ash ponds by downgrading their risk classifications.

The Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash formed in July as a way for residents from across the state to connect in solidarity in their demands for an end to the coal ash crisis. Members were appalled and confused last week when DEQ downgraded coal ash sites that as recently as December the agency’s staff had ranked as high priority. The proposed low or low-intermediate status means the sites could potentially be capped in place and left indefinitely to leak toxins into neighboring groundwater supplies.

“It’s an established fact that all sites are leaking, so of course they should be listed as high priority,” says Deborah Graham, who lives near the Buck plant in Salisbury. “We know more than we ever wanted to know about the damage this toxic waste causes to our environment and health each and every day it continues to sit there.”

“DEQ changing our priority from high to low-intermediate is just wrong,” says Debra Baker, who lives within 100 feet of the G.G. Allen plant in Belmont. “DEQ says they did not have enough information from Duke Energy, but they have had several months. Now, we are still living on bottled water, waiting for this mess to be cleaned up.”

To urgently address the realities of coal ash pollution, ACT Against Coal Ash released its Unifying Principles so that state decision makers, Duke Energy, and the public can better understand the needs and demands of residents most harmed — now or in the future — by Duke’s coal ash pollution.

The alliance also launched a website and a video.

The principles, which were agreed upon by hundreds of residents living next to Duke’s existing and proposed coal ash sites, state that all sites should be high priority, that no site should be capped in place, and that coal ash should not be dumped onto other communities. The alliance demands a transparent, honest decision-making process about coal ash cleanup that directly responds to the concerns of residents most impacted by the toxic pollution and that results in the full compensation –– paid for by Duke’s shareholders –– of all past, present, and future harms caused by the utility’s coal ash. The alliance also demands that North Carolina decision makers and Duke Energy think more creatively about how to remediate coal ash sites and work toward a clean energy future. The principles also call on Duke Energy to retain liability of its coal ash, not simply transfer it to hastily planned off-site landfills.

“At this point, Duke Energy and the state are thinking more about profit than the health and well-being of people that actually live in the communities next to Duke’s plants,” says David Hairston, a resident of the Walnut Tree community near the Belews Creek power plant. “They need to come to the communities that are actually affected and see what the living situations are like.”

“We are suffering the dumping of 12 million tons of coal ash on our community,” says Judy Hogan, president of Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump and resident of Moncure which has been identified as a “receiving” community for excavated coal ash. “There are multiple ways toxic coal ash can get into our air and water and shorten our lives. Our state government has forgotten that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not to mention clean air and water.”

Across the state, Duke’s neighbors tell similar stories of the coal ash that used to fall from the sky like snow, landing on their homes, gardens, and families. Now, hundreds of Duke’s neighbors have contaminated drinking water wells and homes they cannot sell.

“Being a part of ACT Against Coal Ash has helped us realize that we have all directly or indirectly experienced contaminated water, having to witness family, friends, and neighbors get sick and even die, and feeling the helplessness of having to face a power giant alone,” says Bobby Jones, a leader of the Down East Coal Ash Coalition in Goldsboro, near the H.F. Lee plant. “You cannot imagine the magnitude of stress, isolation, and desperation that comes from receiving a do-not-drink letter or watching your neighbors die young from cancer.”

ADDITIONAL CITIZEN STATEMENTS:

Jeri Cruz-Segarra of Arden, who lives near the Asheville plant. “I’m just counting all the people I know around me who’ve gotten sick with cancer and have passed away. Duke should take responsibility and pay for the costs of cleaning up coal ash at all sites that have been affected by its leaking coal ash, not pass the costs on to its customers.”

Debra Baker, whose husband died from environmentally related lung disease several years after moving into their home next to G.G. Allen, which has been illegally polluting the air for decades: “We were lied to when we bought our property. We were told that there weren’t any problems with the plant because it was monitored, and we believed that. We were told that Duke cared about its neighbors, but there have been four deaths on our road in the last seven months.”

Amy Brown, a Belmont resident whose community is contaminated by hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen that is usually associated with industrial pollution. “Anything known to cause cancer shouldn’t be anything less than high priority.”

Caroline Armijo grew up near the Belews Creek power plant and has been active in coal ash work for a decade: “I am disappointed that DEQ and appointed higher-ups overlooked their own staff’s recommendations based on the science of what is best for our health and our water sources by playing politics. Not only is DEQ ignoring our fundamental rights of clean water and optimal health, but it’s neglecting to embrace the future of clean energy, an industry in which North Carolina has excelled over the last decade.”

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Help protect North Carolina’s forest wilderness

Monday, December 14th, 2015 - posted by matt

LostCoveWSA_Forest

In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, a law that provided protections for some of America’s most precious natural areas. It was passed to ensure that increasing population and mechanization would not degrade or alter the entire landscape, leaving no lands protected in their natural condition.

But today, more than 50 years after the Wilderness Act was signed into law, less than a third of one percent of North Carolina’s land area has been protected as wilderness. To put that number into perspective, if North Carolina were a 1,500 square-foot house, the amount of land we have set aside as wilderness would be smaller than a linen closet.

Right now, the US. Forest Service is revising its plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests and we need your help to ensure that more of North Carolina’s most beloved natural treasures are protected as wilderness.

Please join us in asking the U.S. Forest Service to recommend Harper Creek and Lost Cove for wilderness designation in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Plan Revision.

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According to the Wilderness Act:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

There are few places in North Carolina more fitting of that description than Lost Cove and Harper Creek, two roadless areas in the Pisgah National Forest just south of Grandfather Mountain that are among the most popular backcountry recreation destinations near Boone, Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, Morganton, Lenoir and Hickory.

These areas were protected as “Wilderness Study Areas” by Congress in 1984 and have been recommended for wilderness designation by the U.S. Forest Service since 1987.

Unfortunately, timber companies and other extractive industries have long sought to remove protections for Lost Cove and Harper Creek. While we support other recreational uses of our forests, there are ways to do that without the risk of allowing extractive industries access to these areas.

We hope you will join Appalachian Voices, the Friends of Harper Creek and Lost Cove Wilderness and other local groups and businesses in asking the U.S. Forest Service to once again recommend Harper Creek and Lost Cove for wilderness designation in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Plan Revision that is currently underway.

Please take action now.

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States Hold Strong on Clean Power Plan Positions

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 - posted by interns

By Brian Sewell

The legal assault on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan began long before Oct. 23, when it was published in the Federal Register. But that day, states and industry groups were able to officially challenge the rules, which are aimed at limiting carbon pollution from coal plants and boosting cleaner energy sources.

Within a day, more than 15 separate cases were filed, making the Clean Power Plan the most litigated environmental regulation in history, according to E&E Publishing. Appalachian states including Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio signed onto a lawsuit led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey that includes 20 other states.

Attorneys general and agency officials fighting the EPA, however, may not have the public on their side. A poll released in November by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found that a majority of residents in every state except West Virginia, North Dakota and Montana believe there should be strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants.

Virginia and Maryland are among a group of 18 states intervening in the case to defend the Clean Power Plan.

Describing his reasons for supporting the EPA, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told reporters that policies to address climate change and invest in renewable energy are “exactly the kind of shot in the arm that we need to grow a real, vibrant clean-energy economy here in Virginia.”

The fight over the Clean Power Plan’s future is expected to last years, especially if the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, states are carefully considering their approaches to compliance.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality quickly crafted a plan focused entirely on improving power plant efficiency — the only component of the Clean Power Plan the state agency considers to be legal. Experts say that approach could easily backfire, leaving North Carolina with less control over its carbon-reduction efforts.

“If the EPA successfully defends the [legal] challenge and the EPA denies DEQ’s plan, it can impose a federal plan it is developing without the states,” Jonas Monast of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions told the Charlotte Business Journal.

Kentucky could also be assigned a federal plan if incoming Gov. Matt Bevin keeps his campaign promise to rebuke the EPA. Due to Bevin’s refusal to even develop a compliance plan, the group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth has pledged to create its own.

“They are turning their backs, again, on our opportunity and Kentucky’s future,” the group wrote on the website for the project, Empower Kentucky. “If the politicians won’t do it, it’s up to us.”

N.C. Communities Take Steps to Block Fracking

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 - posted by interns

By Elizabeth E. Payne

On Nov. 10, the commissioners of Walnut Cove, N.C., passed a three-year moratorium on fracking, another action in a lengthy tug-of-war between state and local officials over who has power to regulate the expansion of fracking into the state.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of drilling to extract natural gas that causes significant impact to the environment. Since 2012, the legislature has steadily worked to ease restrictions to fracking in North Carolina, while community members have pushed to block this access.

On Sept. 30, just days after Stokes County passed a three-year moratorium on fracking, the N.C. General Assembly approved a bill that makes such ordinances more difficult to enforce. The measure also temporarily halted efforts by local governments to pass new measures blocking fracking in their communities.

Despite the new law, in November the town of Walnut Cove and Rockingham County each passed multi-year moratoriums. Lee County took a similar vote, but without unanimous support a second vote will be taken on Dec. 7.

Anti-fracking measures have also passed in the towns of Creedmoor and Bakersville, and in Anson and Chatham Counties.

State Environmental Departments Criticized

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 - posted by interns

By Eliza Laubach

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality’s regulatory control is in jeopardy, according to a letter sent to the state department’s secretary from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October. In the letter, the EPA expressed concern that recent court cases limit citizen rights to appeal DEQ permits beyond federal standards.

The DEQ’s response claimed they were misunderstood and argued that state permitting rules give citizens greater input than the federal rules. If the court verdicts are upheld, the EPA could exercise its right to review DEQ’s permitting programs, the letter said, which would also encompass a package of changes to environmental regulations passed by the state earlier this fall. If discrepancies are found with federal requirements, the EPA could withdraw their authorization of DEQ’s permitting programs.

In Kentucky, a WFPL Louisville Public Media investigation found that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has become lax in regulatory enforcement over the past 20 years. Budget cuts, staff reductions and recent industry-friendly administrations have contributed to decreasing violations and enforcement pursued in court. Legal proceedings over violations currently average about 50 percent less cases per year than 15 years ago, according to data reviewed by the investigation, which also found that some of Kentucky’s waterways are more polluted than they were a decade ago

Faced with Threats to Nolichucky River, Residents Unite

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 - posted by interns
Jack Renner sits in his tractor as workers with U.S. Nitrogen start digging to install the pipeline on his land against his will.

Jack Renner sits in his tractor as workers with U.S. Nitrogen start digging to install the pipeline on his land against his will.

A Bridge Over Troubled Water
By Lorelei Goff

Winding southwestward from the North Toe River in Avery County, N.C., the Nolichucky River transitions between a wide, placid ribbon, a narrow torrent of whitewater and a shallow, dancing shoal during its 115-mile course into East Tennessee. Its waters have long been troubled by sediment and runoff from poor agricultural practices, radioactive waste from the Nuclear Fuels Systems plant in Erwin, Tenn., and pollution from other human impacts that have threatened its beauty, diverse ecosystems, recreational opportunities and use as a public water source.

A new threat was proposed along its banks in 2011. Industrial explosives manufacturer U.S. Nitrogen eyed the site of the historic Conway Bridge, which joins Greene and Cocke counties in Tennessee, for a 12-mile dual pipeline. The pipeline will pump up to 1.9 million gallons of water from the river to the company’s ammonium nitrate plant and return 500,000 gallons of effluent daily. The subsidiary of the Austin Powder Company, which supplies explosives for mining operations, plans to operate two ammonia plants, a nitric acid plant and an ammonium nitrate solution plant at the site. A calcium nitrate plant operated by Yara International and a carbon dioxide recycling plant to be operated by an unnamed company are planned at the same location.

Controversies marked the construction of the pipeline, including alleged conflicts of interest by local officials and lawsuits over right-of-ways, trespassing and open meetings violations. These controversies and concerns about the river — ranging from the fate of the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel, air and water quality, and the lack of an environmental impact study — are bridging social and cultural gaps between predominantly liberal environmentalists, conservative landowners and apolitical residents.

April Bryant, founding director of the Save the Nolichucky group, organized a mock funeral on the Conway Bridge to protest the pipeline. “I get emotional because the Conway Bridge is my family history,” she says. “My great-grandfather’s great-grandfather was Joseph Conway, who fought in the Revolutionary War.”

According to Bryant, she sees the fight for the river as a “fight against tyranny” and hopes her ancestor would be proud of the group for defending it. But she says it’s the environmental concerns that are bringing folks together.

Ann Calfee of Save the Nolichucky measures the pH of the river below a U.S. Nitrogen work site in December 2014. Photos by April Bryant, aprilbryant.com

Ann Calfee of Save the Nolichucky measures the pH of the river below a U.S. Nitrogen work site in December 2014. Photos by April Bryant, aprilbryant.com

“Our well is less than 300 yards from where the pipeline goes into the river,” she says. “There are limestone caves and sinkholes … so I’m sure that water from the river works its way all around under the ground to our wells. My kids drink out of that. Who’s going to check it?”

CWEET, or Clean Water Expected in East Tennessee, is an environmental advocacy group that works for clean water and other social justice issues in the region. The group partners with the nonprofit environmental research laboratory Environmental Quality Institute to conduct chemical and biological water monitoring on the Nolichucky. The groups have completed two rounds of testing to gather baseline data before operations at the plant begin and will continue sampling on a quarterly basis with the help of volunteers.

Ann Calfee is a director of Save the Nolichucky and a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Transportation, U.S. Nitrogen and the Greene County Industrial Development Board. The suit questions the legality of permits that allowed the pipeline to be installed in state highway right-of-ways reserved for utilities that serve the public. Calfee says residents are volunteering with CWEET because of concerns about how the plant’s operations will impact the health of the river.

“Our main concerns are what will happen to the aquatic life, the vegetation and the wells,” she says.

CWEET’s director, Deborah Bahr, sees the local efforts as part of a larger grassroots movement to preserve the area and demand high-quality jobs that don’t harm the community. One local teacher created an Advanced Placement class that will give students an opportunity to take part in water testing. Bahr says she hopes CWEET will become a water testing resource for other communities that have concerns about their waterways.

Though the troubled waters flowing under the Conway Bridge are still at risk, the impact on community engagement in environmental and social justice issues in the area has been positive.

“It’s been this really weird mix of people who have come together with all these different views and all these different beliefs,” says Bryant. “But we just want to save the river. We’ve all come together with that purpose.”

NC DEQ’s blatant bid for control

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 - posted by Ridge Graham

State agency clashes with the EPA and Coal Ash Management Commission

Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

Over the past few months, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has seemed determined to have complete environmental regulatory control of the state, showing little regard for federal or public input.

In this endeavor, DEQ has taken every chance it can to highlight how external forces, including citizens groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are simply getting in its way. Upholding the best interests of North Carolina’s citizens and the environment only becomes a priority when the agency is threatened with losing power.

Rejecting the Clean Power Plan

DEQ joined a lawsuit with more than two dozen of the nation’s largest carbon-emitting states against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. In October, DEQ submitted a proposal that would only address coal-based emissions because it believes the first component of the Clean Power Plan — improving coal fired power plant efficiency — is the only aspect the EPA has the legal authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act.

TAKE ACTION: Demand a REAL Clean Power Plan for North Carolina.

But if the Clean Power Plan survives in court, and the EPA rejects North Carolina’s plan, federal regulators can intervene in North Carolina’s emission reductions process. So, in case their strategy fails, state officials plan to submit an alternate plan that aligns with the EPA’s proposal.

EPA threatens to take away DEQ’s permitting authority

This year, DEQ permitted a cement plant in Wilmington that would emit more than 5,000 tons of particulates, mercury and other air pollution annually. The agency also OKed a quarry in Blounts Creek that would discharge up to 12 million gallons of waste a day into the Pamlico River. Residents of these areas, along with coastal environmental advocacy and conservation groups, challenged these permits. The state dismissed those challenges on the grounds that the groups did not have standing.

The EPA sent a letter to DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart stating that the inability of citizens to appeal permits was troubling. The letter warned that if DEQ continued to skirt federal regulations, the EPA would revoke its authority to issue pollution permits under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

DEQ responded by shifting the blame to a court decision and presented a list of regulations required by the EPA but not by state law — insinuating that the public process for challenging permits is less burdensome on the state level. State officials said they have no intention of losing permitting authority.

DEQ takes on the Coal Ash Management Commission’s responsibilities

UPDATE: A draft summary by DEQ classified 27 of Duke Energy’s 32 coal ash ponds in North Carolina as posing a “high” or “immediate” risk. If the ratings stand when they are finalized on Dec. 31, Duke would have to excavate the coal ash from those sites.

In another isolationist move, DEQ wants to move forward on the priority classification of coal ash containment sites without the Coal Ash Management Commission. But the commission was created by the Coal Ash Management Act to be housed under the N.C. Department of Public Safety because the General Assembly determined that DEQ was ineffectual and untrustworthy in regulating coal ash.

These site classifications will determine timelines for the cleanup of coal ash at each site, with up to a decade of difference in cleanup response. Sites deemed low priority could be closed using “cap-in-place,” a method that would leave nearby waterways and communities at risk. The commission has 60 days to review the classifications before they go into effect.

However, the state Supreme Court has not yet ruled on Governor Pat McCrory’s lawsuit challenging appointments to the commission, so the group is unable to reach a quorum. When Commission Chairman Michael Jacobs wrote a letter to McCrory and legislative leaders to point this out, van der Vaart responded to say DEQ has it under control.

“Fortunately, legislators had the foresight to include provisions in the coal ash law that prevent delays to the cleanup process including a provision that ensures the prioritization and public participation processes can proceed in the absence of the Coal Ash Management Commission,” van der Vaart wrote.

He did not mention why the commission was not housed under DEQ in the first place.

DEQ blames EPA for delay in coal ash cleanup

DEQ is currently making a public fuss about the EPA taking time to review a state-issued permit to dewater the coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly, N.C. DEQ claims that this is the fifth permitting delay this year from the EPA, and that North Carolina is receiving different treatment than other states with regard to its coal ash cleanup projects.

Duke Energy's retired Riverbend Steam Station, Photo from Flickr.

Duke Energy’s retired Riverbend Steam Station, Photo by Duke Energy, licensed under Creative Commons.

Duke’s plants are permitted a discharge rate of coal ash pond water as part of a multi-step treatment process. The nearby bodies of water, many of which supply drinking water to nearby cities and towns, are monitored to determine how much impact the discharge has on the surrounding environment and watershed. DEQ is rushing to dump the entirety of the coal ash pond water into Mountain Island Lake, which is already polluted from the coal ash ponds at the Riverbend plant.

Water samples taken from Mountain Island Lake in 2013 indicated there were levels of constituents in the surface water that exceeded public health standards. Tissues samples taken from fish caught in the lake were found to have high levels of heavy metals, which led to a state-issued fish consumption advisory. Mountain Island Lake is the drinking water source more than 750,000 people.

With these considerations, is it not reasonable to take more than 15 days to analyze such a permit? Or does DEQ just want to have its way regardless of what happens to the people downstream.

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Organizing Around the Clean Power Plan

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 - posted by interns

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized the first limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants earlier this year. Known as the Clean Power Plan, the rules give states a wide degree of flexibility to determine how to reduce their carbon emissions.

Our teams are hard at work in the Appalachian states to ensure that energy efficiency and renewable energy are priorities and our dependence on fossil fuels is replaced with sustainable energy choices.

In North Carolina, the Clean Power Plan has met resistance from government environmental officials. Our team’s focus is on generating citizen input at the state’s December public hearings to demand a true clean energy plan. In preparation for the hearings, we are drafting public and technical comments and partnering with environmental justice groups, faith organizations and health groups.

In Tennessee, we are launching an on-the-ground campaign to educate Volunteer State residents about the plan and encourage state officials to include clean energy in their power mix.

And in Virginia, we are calling for a state plan that will meet and exceed the 38% pollution reduction target, supporting a citizen movement to press decision-makers to address carbon pollution in a significant, long-term way through emissions trading with other states.

Learn more about our work regarding carbon pollution and climate change.