Posts Tagged ‘Red White and Water’

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

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 - posted by sandra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Rudo, the toxicologist from the Department of Health and Human Services, who has been personally calling residents to make sure they heed the “do not drink” notice, called baloney out on Bradley’s presentation as seen in the following video clip (thanks to Waterkeeper Alliance for the footage).

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

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

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

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Keep the Clean Water Act going strong

Thursday, June 4th, 2015 - posted by sandra

Is the Obama administration ready to continue modernizing the landmark law?

After releasing the final Clean Water Rule last week, the EPA should continue modernizing the Clean Water Act by better protecting clean water from power plant and industrial waste.

After releasing the final Clean Water Rule last week, the EPA should continue modernizing the Clean Water Act by better protecting clean water from power plant and industrial waste.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the release of its long-awaited Clean Water Rule, which clarifies the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act.

The finalized rule ends a decade of confusion; a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision brought into doubt the definition of “navigable waters,” which the EPA had historically interpreted to include areas connected to waters by tributaries or other smaller streams.

As The Los Angeles Times reports:

Before the new rule, up to 60 percent of American streams and millions of acres of wetlands were potentially overlooked by the Clean Water Act, EPA officials say. One in three Americans … use drinking water affected by these sources that lacked clear protection from pollution before the rule change, according to the agency.

Is the Obama administration ready to continue the trend of strengthening and modernizing the Clean Water Act — the crucial environmental law that came about due to levels of water pollution that seem unfathomable today?

As the EPA pursues updating the Effluent Limitation Guidelines, which provide standards on wastewater discharge from power plants, we hope that is indeed the case. Sixty percent of water pollution comes from coal-fired power plants alone, and these guidelines would also include natural gas and nuclear facilities.

The primary reason the EPA is even updating these guidelines is because clean water groups sued the agency for not having updated the rule since 1982.

These out-of-date standards do not contain federally enforceable limits on toxic heavy metals. Any limits are left for individual states to decide; as a result, 70 percent of current Clean Water Act permits for power plants do not have limits for heavy metals.

Even worse, the water pollution from these plants has become more dangerous since many coal-fired power plants have installed air pollution technology that “scrubs” emissions before they leave the smokestack. This is good news for air quality, but not for water quality. The scrubbed pollution has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is in waste impoundments where these pollutants supposedly “settle” to the bottom. Power plants are then allowed to dump water from these impoundments into our river and lakes, which sometimes serve as drinking water sources.

Heavy metals are dangerous at varying levels to wildlife and human health. The industry is also discovering that the chemicals used in the “scrubbing” process can interact with chemicals from drinking water treatment plants to create trihalomethanes, which have been linked to bladder cancer.

The EPA released draft options of the Effluent Limitation Guidelines in 2013 and received more 160,000 comments, most asking for the strong technological options that would create zero waste. The agency is planning to release the final standard this fall. But there is real concern among clean water advocates that the final rule may not pursue the most technically feasible option for stopping pollution from heavy metals and other chemicals, as required by the Clean Water Act.

We are going to need your help to crank up the pressure on the White House to make sure the EPA listens to us water-drinkers as it works to finalize the rule for this fall. Sign up here to receive updates. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Permits and Payments: Will Duke Energy ever stop polluting?

Friday, March 13th, 2015 - posted by sarah
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced a record-high $25 million fine for pollution at Duke Energy's Sutton plant. The agency also updated coal ash permits to at other sites to protect the company. Photo from Duke Energy Flickr.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced a record-high $25 million fine for pollution at Duke Energy’s Sutton plant (above). The agency also updated coal ash permits at other sites to monitor pollution — and protect the company. Photo from Duke Energy Flickr.

This week, Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources added a new chapter to the coal ash saga.

On the heels of recent news that Duke Energy agreed to pay $102 million to resolve the federal charges for the company’s criminally negligent handling of coal ash at four out of 14 of its coal plants in North Carolina, DENR announced Tuesday that it is charging Duke Energy $25.1 million for coal ash pollution at the Sutton power plant near Wilmington.

$25.1 million is the largest fine DENR has ever issued, and though the fine is substantial, it’s long overdue and does nothing to remedy the pollution problems that persist at the Sutton site (not to mention Duke’s 13 other sites). For a company that made $1.9 billion in profits last year, $25 million isn’t breaking the bank, but it is making a statement. Which raises the question, is it just a statement, or is it a precursor to Duke finally cleaning up its coal ash across North Carolina?

A few days prior to DENR’s announcement of the fine, the agency released updated permit drafts, proposed to “better protect water quality near coal ash ponds until closure plans are approved.” Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, that’s the best part about the permit rewrites, they sound good.

Unpermitted leaks and seeps at Duke’s coal ash ponds that led to the criminal charges filed last month, will now be permitted as legal discharges. Though permitting the pollution will force monitoring, it does nothing to stop or even stymie the toxic discharges.

North Carolina, like the rest of the country, has very few limits on the amount of pollution power plants can discharge directly into our waterways. In fact, the federal rules regulating direct discharges from power plants have not been updated in 32 years, and those rules allow unlimited discharges of many of the toxic constituents in coal ash pollution, including mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium. By rewriting Duke’s permits, DENR is resolving violations of the Clean Water Act, not by stopping the illegal discharges, but by issuing permits for them.

Accompanying the new permits and record-high payments are vague promises from both DENR and Duke Energy that the coal ash will be cleaned up eventually. Though the state’s coal ash law requires closure plans for all sites by the end of 2016, if a site is categorized as low priority, Duke will be allowed to simply “cap-in-place” its coal ash. “Cap-in-place” is a questionable practice that comes with the risk of continued contamination from ponds near waterways or sitting in groundwater. For the 10 communities that have yet to be categorized as low, medium, or high priority, this is a huge concern.

It appears that Duke Energy is working hard to clean up its image and settle the numerous lawsuits it faces. On Tuesday, the company announced that it would pay $146 million to settle a lawsuit related to the company’s 2012 merger with Progress Energy. Once again, the sum is substantial in comparison to similar settlement agreements, indicating that Duke Energy’s deceit was substantial in this case as well.

Both DENR and Duke Energy want North Carolinians to believe they are doing the right thing. Only time will tell if the company will uphold its vague promises and stop polluting North Carolina communities and their drinking water with coal ash.

Apologies for the Dan River spill, guilt for coal ash crimes

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - posted by brian
Facing federal criminal charges stemming from the Dan River spill and pollution at other sites across North Carolina, Duke will pay for its coal ash crimes.

Facing federal criminal charges stemming from the Dan River spill and pollution at other sites across North Carolina, Duke will pay for its coal ash crimes.

Duke Energy likes to use a tagline that goes something like “For more than 100 years we’ve been providing customers with reliable, affordable electricity at the flip of a switch.”

It’s boilerplate, but it works. So I doubt the company will amend that punchy bit of self-praise to include “and we were recently found criminally negligent for polluting North Carolina rivers with coal ash.”

Even so, a year after the Dan River spill, Duke seems to understand that coal ash pollution has its own chapter in the company’s corporate story. Now, Duke will pay for its crimes.

The bombshell news came in two pieces around the same time last Friday; the U.S. Department of Justice announced the charges and Duke announced it struck a deal with prosecutors. A few days before the big reveal, Duke told shareholders in an earnings report that it set aside $100 million to resolve the federal investigation that began after the Dan River spill.

The company faces nine misdemeanor charges for violating the federal Clean Water Act at multiple coal ash sites across the state. On Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Western, Middle and Eastern Districts of North Carolina each filed charges in their respective federal courts, related to violations that occurred at coal ash ponds owned by Duke in their respective districts.

According to DOJ, Duke was criminally negligent in discharging coal ash and coal ash wastewater from storage ponds its Dan River, Asheville, Lee, and Riverbend plants into North Carolina rivers. Violations related to equipment upkeep were found at the Cape Fear Steam Station, where Duke was cited by the state for illegally pumping 61 million gallons of toxic water from a coal ash pit into the Cape Fear River last year.

The DOJ’s press release makes clear that the filing of charges is not a finding of guilt, and most prominent news outlets left any indication that Duke is guilty of its coal ash crimes out of their coverage. We decided to use the word “guilty” in our press release largely because a proposed plea agreement including millions in fines had been reached.

Read one of the three criminal "bills of information" detailing charges against Duke Energy (PDF).

Read one of the three criminal “bills of information” detailing charges against Duke Energy (PDF).

Also, in a consent to transfer the plea and sentencing proceedings to the Eastern District court, an attorney for Duke wrote: “… the Defendants wish to plead guilty to the offenses charged.”

Of course, Duke steered clear from the words “guilty” or “plea” in its own announcement. But, as the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Frank Holleman told the Charlotte Observer, “When anyone pays $100 million to resolve a grand jury investigation, that indicates something serious happened.”

There’s still a lot of specifics we don’t know about the agreement between prosecutors and Duke. Prosecutors say they won’t comment until after court proceedings where the agreement must be approved by a federal judge.

It’s important to note, though, that this is a plea bargain to resolve a criminal investigation, not a settlement to avoid a civil trial. The proposed agreement includes $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation. The fines cannot be passed on to customers, meaning Duke’s shareholders will take the hit.

Importantly, the agreement would also put Duke on probation for five years, during which a court-appointed monitor would ensure compliance with provisions related to training, audits and reporting. According to Duke, the full agreement will be made public if it is accepted by the court.

“We are sorry for the Dan River spill, and remain grateful to our friends and neighbors for your support,” Duke CEO Lynn Good said in a statement. “We are committed to moving forward in a safe and responsible way.”

For a year Duke has been saying sorry to its customers and communities along the Dan River — basically demanding that it be held to a higher standard. So even though the company is no longer in crisis mode, it’s still watching its back as it tries to repair its reputation and move beyond the spill.

The problem of coal ash pollution in North Carolina is far from resolved. According to Duke’s own assessment, 200 seeps at its power plants leak nearly 3 million gallons of polluted water into streams and rivers every year. Just yesterday, Duke was cited for contaminating groundwater at its Asheville Plant.

In addition to investigating Duke Energy, federal prosecutors subpoenaed current and former employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which used to regulate coal ash ponds. But none of the charges against Duke allege any improper, or illegal, dealings between the company and state regulators.

Without clarification from the U.S. Attorney’s office, it’s unclear whether the grand jury has finished its work, only finding Duke in the wrong, or if an investigation into actions of DENR is ongoing.

“While prosecutors aren’t legally obliged to explain charges they don’t file, in this case the public needs more substantial disclosures,” the Fayetteville Observer wrote in an editorial. “The Justice Department needs to let us know whether a cloud of suspicion remains over DENR.”

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Criminal charges filed against Duke Energy

Friday, February 20th, 2015 - posted by brian
Duke Energy entered a plea agreement with federal prosecutors to resolve a federal criminal investigation into its handling of coal ash in North Carolina.

Duke Energy entered a proposed plea agreement with prosecutors to resolve federal criminal charges related to its handling of coal ash in North Carolina.

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed criminal charges against Duke Energy for violating the federal Clean Water Act at coal ash sites across North Carolina. The company announced today it has reached a proposed plea agreement with federal prosecutors to resolve the charges.

According to a Duke Energy press release, the plea agreement includes $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation.

The charges include multiple misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act in connection with last year’s coal ash spill in the Dan River as well as unauthorized discharges at other Duke coal plants in North Carolina. The agreement is subject to review and approval by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Related stories

Coal Ash Management: Long-awaited, still debatedAppalachian Voice reporter Kimber Ray sums up the state of coal ash management at the federal and state levels.

The agreement does not affect state lawsuits against Duke Energy, in which Appalachian Voices and our partners have intervened. It’s unclear whether the grand jury has finished its work, only finding Duke in the wrong, or if an investigation into actions of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is ongoing.

The federal grand jury investigation began last year after 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled from a retired Duke Energy coal plant into the Dan River.

A statement from Amy Adams, North Carolina Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, and former supervisor with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources:

It’s good to see that federal enforcers have taken this issue seriously by diligently pursuing criminal charges and levying a substantial fine against Duke, and it’s good to see Duke acknowledge its culpability. However, we have yet to see that culpability turn into real action. There are still leaking coal ash ponds at 10 of Duke’s sites, leaving 10 communities in limbo and a lot of ash that must be permanently and safely disposed.

Important questions remain, like exactly how the money will be spent and whether any individuals will be named. But most troubling is the unanswered question of whether DENR was aware of negligence and failed to act, or was unable to recognize the magnitude of the situation in the first place.

Learn more about our work to clean up coal ash pollution. Subscribe to the Front Porch Blog to receive regular updates. 

Danger still looms over the Dan River

Monday, February 9th, 2015 - posted by amy

{ Editor’s Note } This post by Amy Adams also appeared as an op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal on Sunday, Feb. 1, marking the first anniversary of the Dan River coal ash spill.


It’s been exactly one year since the infamous broken pipe at Duke Energy’s Dan River steam station spewed 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the scenic Dan River, just a few miles upstream of the drinking water intake of some 160,000 people. Since then, much attention has been given to the river and to the problems of leaking, unlined coal ash pits across North Carolina.

What hasn’t received attention is a threat much more menacing to the Dan River. Sitting only 35 miles upstream from the shuttered Dan River plant is Duke’s Belews Creek steam station in Walnut Cove, and one of the largest coal ash impoundments in North Carolina and the entire Southeast. Compare the 342-acre active goliath at Belews to the 39-acre impoundment at the Dan River plant, and it’s easy to understand the implications.

At Belews, a 14-story high earthen dam holds back 4.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash. That’s more than 20 times the holding capacity of the Dan River site. The dam at Belews is rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as “high hazard,” meaning loss of life and property are probable if it failed. The EPA also ranks the dam as being in only fair condition. If it were to break, the Dan River would again be flooded with toxic coal ash, only this time on a scale on par with the Kingston, Tenn., disaster in 2008.

Aside from the threat of a catastrophic spill, the Belews Creek plant has a history of pollution that harms waterways and wildlife, including documented groundwater contamination. In addition, the plant dumps its wastewater directly into the Dan River under state-issued permits. It is currently part of ongoing litigation for violations of the Clean Water Act, its wastewater permit and North Carolina law.

Downstream from the massive Belews Creek plant is the town of Madison, which gets its drinking water from the Dan River, as does Eden and the Virginia localities of Danville, South Boston and Halifax County. Eden, whose water intake was spared any impacts from last year’s spill, withdraws close to 12 million gallons a day from the Dan River to serve residential customers and three major industries: Miller Brewing, Hanesbrands and Karastan Rug Mills.

Living next to this industrial mega-site are residents of Walnut Cove and Pine Hall, communities whose concerns include not just the wet ash impoundment and dangerous dam, but several other on-site landfills containing dried coal ash. While the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has spent the last weeks rearranging the who’s who of its upper management, these communities, like others across the state, are waiting to find out if the agency will ever clean up the sites.

According to the state’s new coal ash law, passed earlier this year under mounting pressure from citizens, DENR must set the “priority level” of each site by the end of 2015. So far, four sites have been identified as high priority — but not Belews Creek. If it’s ultimately deemed to be a “low priority” site, the ash could be left in the existing unlined pit in the ground and simply covered with plastic. This is not an acceptable solution for the residents around the plant who depend exclusively on wells for their drinking water.

Covering the ash does nothing to stop the toxic metals from entering the groundwater beneath the unlined pit. It’s equivalent to trying to stay dry under an umbrella while sitting in a puddle.

The communities living under the shadow of Belews deserve to be more than a low priority. In fact, no community in North Carolina should be considered a low priority. On the anniversary of the Dan River spill, we should make the removal of coal ash from all unlined coal ash sites and therefore, the assurance of clean, safe water to our communities, our top priority.

Today, I prayed we #kickcoalash

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note }This post originally appeared on Caroline Rutledge Armijo’s blog. We are happy to share it her with her permission.

Local residents and activists gather at Belews Lake, home to Duke Energy's Belews Creek Steam Station, to demand an end to coal ash pollution in North Carolina.

Local residents and activists gather at Belews Lake, home to Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station, to demand an end to coal ash pollution in North Carolina. See more photos from the rally on Flickr.

On Sunday, Residents for Coal Ash Clean Up met at the Belews Lake boat dock overlooking the smokestacks at Duke Energy’s Belews Steam Station in Stokes County, N.C. Today marks the one year anniversary of the coal ash spill into the Dan River in Eden. And while it was the third largest coal ash spill in our country’s history, it is only a drop in the bucket of what would happen if there was a spill at Belews Creek into the same Dan River.

Duke Energy is currently in mediation over which coal ash locations they will clean up. Belews Creek is the site of the largest coal ash pond in the state of North Carolina and it is currently on the low priority list. We want to be a high priority.

Sarah from Appalachian Voices asked me to speak at today’s event. Of course. I am glad to do anything. Yet, I procrastinated on writing my speech until this morning. That’s really bad news considering it was a morning event and we live an hour away with two kids in tow. But I am glad I did, because during the night I realized that I needed to pray. The reality is the media will only cover what they want. After my speech in Raleigh, they summed it up to basically “Caroline Armijo is upset that her friends and family are sick.” But I saw today as an opportunity to have a large crowd gathered by the lake where we could pray. If I had gotten out of bed at 4 am, I am certain that God told me what to say word for word. But I didn’t. So I did the best that I could this morning at 8 am.

Here’s my speech and prayer, including the part I forgot:

Good morning! My name is Caroline Rutledge Armijo. I am a native of Stokes County and I currently reside in Greensboro. Thank you to everyone for coming out to Belews Creek today. We are here because we want Belews Creek to be included on the High Priority List for Duke’s clean up.

A year after the spill in Eden, we want to warn North Carolina and the country that we are standing at the site of the largest coal ash pond in Duke’s system – a horrifying 342-acres in some areas over twelve stories deep. This is the largest coal-ash risk to North Carolina’s water, land and air.

In 2009 Belews Creek was classified High Risk for failure. That means Duke has known for over five years that the earthen structures are highly likely to fail and people will die. But Duke just wants to plant some grass on top.

Without the threat of catastrophic failure, the unlined coal ash pond is still a problem. Water from the pond is released into the Dan River EVERY SINGLE DAY. This is Madison’s drinking water, which Duke actively “corrects” by adding chemicals to the river.

If you watched the At What Cost video, you will recognize several of our faces. But one is missing. Our leader Annie Brown died in September after suffering from a massive heart attack. She was the very person who asked “At what cost?” Others among us have faced serious health problems, including cancer, strokes and respiratory disorders. Annie had a list of all the people in this community who were suffering from poor health. And for all of these people, I feel led to end this with a prayer.

Dear Great and Mighty God,

Here we stand on what feels like sacred space. So many people have lost their lives too soon or faced serious health consequences because of the pollution from this site.

We are all incredibly grateful for the opportunities provided by the power generated here. But now we ask that you heal this broken place. We are faced with the complicated task of just how to do that.

We pray for the strength and courage to demand that Belews Creek become a high priority site.

We pray for the spirits who have passed before us that they may have peace.

And we pray for those who live daily with the illnesses they face that they will be blessed with the very best for their needs.

We pray for guidance, miracles and wholeness.


In memory of an inspirational leader and friend

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 - posted by sarah
Annie Brown: June 28, 1950 - September 28, 2014

Annie Brown:
June 28, 1950 – September 28, 2014

Appalachian Voices and Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup lost an amazing activist and dear friend in late September with the passing of Annie Fulp Brown.

Annie lived in the rural community of Walnut Cove, N.C., her entire life. Her first priority was always her family. She lived across the street from one of her daughters and best friend, Tracey, and she would speak proudly of her grandchildren, who love reading and excel in school. She was a natural nurturer. She would tell me stories about her family all the time, about how her granddaughter would cross the street to eat breakfast at her house before school, about big plans for a 100-person Thanksgiving event, about her prayers for her husband and daughter’s health.

She was also an activist and a champion for her community. She was one of the first people in her neighborhood to speak publicly about her experience living next to the largest coal-fired power plant in the state, Duke Energy’s Belews Creek steam station. As busy as she was, she always took interviews with any media outlet that would listen to her story, from the Winston-Salem Journal to 60 Minutes. She was the rare kind of activist who is capable of boldly speaking their truth and inspiring others to join the cause — and she did it all for her family.

“I have children, and grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. I’m a young great grandmother,” Annie says in the video At What Cost?, “I want them to be able to have a life that’s free of constant problems caused by toxins. I’m concerned about them.”

Annie’s concern was born from her experience of living next to the Belews Creek power plant for decades.

When Duke Energy built the Belews Creek power plant in the early seventies, Annie and her neighbors had to move, but only a couple of miles down the road. “We still formed that community,” Annie said, “pretty much the same people, the same families.”

Annie suffered many ailments throughout her life. But as she got older, she began to see a connection between the pollution from the Belews Creek plant and the illnesses she and her neighbors were suffering.

After the Feb. 2 coal ash spill into the Dan River, the N.C. NAACP held a town hall in Eden, N.C. Annie spoke to a church packed with more than 70 people openly and clearly about her health concerns. She showed them the list of names she had collected of people in her community that suffered from strange illnesses and early deaths. She spoke about a mysterious illness that immobilized her right hand.

Annie told the crowd about the ash that used to fill the air every day, “The place where that fly ash landed ate the paint [off the car]. I didn’t think anything of it because no one had informed us of any toxins, any poisonous metals … it was just flying in the air, my kids were out playing in it.”

Rev. William Barber, a leader of the Moral Monday movement, told Annie at the town hall, “Sometimes God allows people to live so they can give their living testimony of the hell they’ve been through so that those who are yet living will hear that testimony and take up the cause of fighting for justice.”

I know Annie desperately wanted things to change for her family and her community. She stood up and spoke out against Duke Energy’s pollution — she knew it was an injustice. It’s not every day that you meet someone willing and brave enough to put their energy into stopping injustice, but Annie was one of those people, and I feel blessed to have known her.

“She was a courageous spokesperson for her community,” reflects Kara Dodson of Appalachian Voices, “Annie had such a trustworthy, friendly personality that really connected with people and allowed them to join our fight wholeheartedly. I think her faith and love for her family is what kept her speaking out, telling her story, motivating others to care. She always had a joke, a funny story that would keep the mood hopeful. And as far as I can tell, she was born to be a fighter.”

At her Homegoing Service, the church was packed — a testament to how well loved and respected she was by her community. As we lifted our voices in song and prayer, I remembered sitting outside a different, smaller church with Annie, watching as she picked five-petaled flowers. She told me about how the flowers were good luck, and how she and her grandmother used to pick them together. She told me about growing up in Walnut Cove, about wearing dresses made of flour sacks, spying on the local moonshiner, and the time she drove her daddy’s car down the road. I’ll always remember with great fondness and admiration her stories, her strong spirit, and her unending love for her family.

Today, Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup and Appalachian Voices continue the fight to clean up the toxic coal ash that has polluted Annie’s community for decades. As the newly formed coal ash commission begins deciding how, when, and even if each coal ash site will be cleaned up, Annie’s brave words and love of her grandchildren come to mind, “Clean water is a must, for all of us.”

Read more about the community of Belews Creek here
Read about the NAACP Town Hall and watch Annie Brown’s speech here
Read one of the first articles quoting Annie Brown here

As the state falters, local governments support coal ash cleanup

Friday, June 20th, 2014 - posted by amy


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.