Posts Tagged ‘Red White and Water’

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 1 billion 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.

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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.

Amen.

In memory of an inspirational leader and friend

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
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

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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.

Debunking Duke: Why Captain Abandon is a failed superhero

Thursday, May 15th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg

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Since the Dan River spill in February, Duke Energy has been under immense public pressure to clean up its toxic coal ash legacy without passing the cost on to their ratepayers.

Rather than actually cleaning up its coal ash, however, the company is spending millions to clean up its image by launching a new greenwashing campaign that claims, “We’ll do the right thing with our coal ash.”

Defining what the “right thing” is remains contentious. While a recent poll showed that 88 percent of North Carolinians feel coal ash should be stored away from water in specially lined landfills, Duke Energy continues to tout “cap-in-place” as an acceptable remedy and has only promised to move its coal ash at a few high-profile locations.

Cap-in-place involves draining the water from coal ash ponds and covering them with dirt and plastic. Duke claims that it is the most cost-effective option, but cap-in-place will not prevent groundwater contamination, coal ash from leaking into waterways, dam failure, or other potential hazards, like the stormwater pipe that collapsed at the retired Dan River plant.

Capping coal ash ponds does not stop the ash from interacting with groundwater, since water seeps through the unlined bottom and sides of the earthen pits, not the top. Additionally, most coal ash ponds in North Carolina were built on top of streams and creeks that drain into larger waterways, as shown by these maps produced by the Southern Environmental Law Center. A bottom liner is the only way to prevent coal ash contaminants from seeping into these buried waterways.

Promoting cap-in-place as a safe and effective coal ash remedy is essentially another public relations stunt aimed at making North Carolinians feel as though Duke is doing “the right thing” when in fact, the company is proposing to literally and figuratively cover up the problem, abandon their ash pits, and allow pollution from coal ash ponds to continue.

While a bottom liner is necessary to protect groundwater from coal ash, moving the ash ponds away from North Carolina’s waterways is the safest way to prevent another catastrophic spill from occurring. There are twenty municipal water intakes located downriver from Duke’s coal ash pits in North Carolina, and more than 1.5 million residents rely on water that is currently threatened by Duke’s aging coal ash dams, most of which are in poor condition.

Duke has only proposed moving ash at its Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton, and Asheville plants, leaving communities near its 10 other coal plants to continue suffering from coal ash pollution. The company argues that the $10 billion dollars and 30 years it would take to move all its coal ash is prohibitive. This begs the question, what is clean drinking water, healthy ecosystems and human life worth to a company that made $2.5 billion in profits last year alone?

Although Duke Energy spokespeople have assured the public for months that the company would be able to clean up the ash that spilled into the Dan river, Duke officials admitted this week that they will never be able to recover all the ash. In fact, they will only be able to remove a small fraction of what was released. So far, the company says that it will remove about 2,500 tons of coal ash deposits — about 6 percent of the 39,000 tons spilled in February.

North Carolinians Stand Together for Coal Ash Cleanup

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 - posted by kara

“We are not against business… we are not against good business practices, but we are against business practices that step on and hurt and put at risk the lives of people. And that must be cleaned up.” – Rev. Dr. William Barber

Protesters outside Duke Energy's shareholder meeting.

Protesters outside Duke Energy’s shareholder meeting.

Hundreds of citizens from across North Carolina converged on May Day for the annual Duke Energy shareholders meeting.

For four years now, social justice advocates have brought the people’s demands to Duke’s doorstep and to the shareholders who influence the corporation’s policies.

The Dan River coal ash spill and attacks on clean energy were highlighted during the action along with several other racial, environmental and economic injustices practiced by Duke Energy which is the largest energy company in the world.

Appalachian Voices co-sponsored the action with a broad coalition of groups including NC WARN, Greenpeace, Charlotte Environmental Action, NC NAACP, Democracy NC, and Action NC.

Several local groups made the action memorable, effective and safe. I’d like to give a special shout out to the volunteer-based Charlotte Environmental Action who led our chants and was the creative force behind the outstanding banners and signs.

You can watch a compilation of speeches and footage from the protest in this YouTube video made by the Canary Coalition.

Community members and advocates paddle on Belews Lake.

Community members and advocates paddle on Belews Lake. Photo by Avery Locklear

We followed this statewide action with a paddle and picnic community day at Belews Creek, where Duke Energy’s largest — and arguably North Carolina’s dirtiest — coal plant operates and pollutes. Appalachian Voices, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, NC WARN and the Tarheel Paddlers Association pulled together a May 10 morning paddle with kayaks and canoes on Belews Lake, which has long history of contamination from the coal-fired power plant that sits on its banks.

After the paddle we shared a potluck style meal with 75 local residents to celebrate our progress and community resilience. The sight of everyone uniting to end the environmental injustices and racism experienced in Belews Creek solidifies the movement to secure a healthy and safe future free of pollution and inequity. We’ve come a long way as a grassroots effort – we recently named the community group as “Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup,” drafted our collective vision and resolution (attached below) and strengthened the national fight for clean water with the video “At What Cost?”

If you’d like to help our work go farther, you can take a few actions from home:

> Share the “At What Cost” video on Facebook or Twitter
> Sign this petition to protect net metering policies and residential solar energy in North Carolina
> Contact us to find a group near you working to clean up coal ash or increase renewable energy!

N.C. coal plant neighbors ask: “At what cost?”

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 - posted by brian

Near the beginning of our new video, “At What Cost?”, longtime Stokes County, N.C., resident Annie Brown says, “I love to turn the switch on and have my lights just like anyone else, but at what cost?”

It’s a question we should all ask of ourselves. Our everyday lives come full of choices that influence how we relate to the environment and each other. But we also must routinely direct our elected officials and the companies that sell us electricity to consider the question: at what cost do our outdated, and often dangerous, energy policies and practices come?

In the video, Brown and other residents and former residents wonder about the relationship between their communities’ health problems and their proximity to Duke Energy’s Belews Creek coal plant, the largest in the Carolinas.

Live in North Carolina? Click here to take action on coal ash.

The plant also has the largest unlined toxic coal ash pit in the state, only increasing locals’ concern about the likelihood that their health problems could be linked to the coal plant in their backyard.

Duke Energy’s marketing team says: “You don’t think about all that’s going on behind that switch, because we do.” But Annie Brown thinks about, and so do we.

North Carolina deserves better. And with the Duke Energy shareholders meeting this Thursday, and the 2014 state legislative session beginning in just two weeks, now is the time to demand stronger protections from coal ash pollution.

Please check out our Facebook and Twitter pages to help us share this video widely. If you live in North Carolina, contact your state senator and ask him or her to support legislation that will eliminate the worst threats coal ash poses to clean water.