Front Porch Blog

Of Loincloths and Lean-Tos: The Fight To Protect NC’s Water

According to N.C. DENR Secretary John Skvarla, if you love clean air and water, here's the dress code.

According to N.C. DENR Secretary John Skvarla, if you love clean air and water, this is your dress code.

Out of the many things that were targeted in the North Carolina legislature, water quality took a huge hit. Not only did the state budget call for the consolidation of the Division of Water Quality and Division of Water Resources, it slashed the two agencies combined budget by more than 12 percent.

And there is the curious case of John Skvarla, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources who has derided his own agency as an “eco-enforcer” before he came onboard.

At a luncheon for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, he claimed to not have a position on climate change since he’s not a scientist, and stated that if environmentalists had their way, “we would live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”

He uses the fact that the agency has taken legal action against all of Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants for leaking coal waste into groundwater, lakes and rivers to prove his commitment to water issues. DENR only took this action after three separate legal challenges were mounted by environmental groups. So far, the proposed settlement with two of those power plants simply require more study and no real action to remove or stop the pollution.

Is DENR’s actions in this case simply an attempt to hem and haw long enough to allow the new groundwater provision in newly signed House Bill 74 to take effect? According to an analysis by Robin Smith, a former assistant secretary for DENR:

House Bill 74 language means that groundwater violations alone — even beyond the compliance boundary — would not necessarily require steps to contain an ongoing flow of contaminated groundwater to the lake. DENR would first have to show that the groundwater contamination is causing or will cause an actual water quality standard violation in the lake or an imminent threat to health, safety or the environment.

This is very disturbing for the residents who live near a coal ash waste impoundment, in particular those residences on well water.

Many citizens across North Carolina are not taking this blatant neglect of their needs lying down, as witnessed by the huge Moral Mondays demonstrations in Raleigh and across the state. Just check your local newspaper, for outspoken citizens correcting “disturbing” statements and actions from Skvarla and DENR, among many others. There are many ways to join this fight for our water and for our future, and we encourage you to do so.

We need to make our voices heard on the state level, to be sure, but we cannot ignore federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has a lot of sway over the strength of our water protections. For example, there is a comment period open right now for how coal-fired power plants treat their wastewater that gets discharged into rivers and streams and can make a difference for our groundwater too.





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