Counting the costs of coal ash: running new water lines

Sharing the burden of reckless behavior:

Regulators have known about problems with Sutton's unlined ash pits for years, but never took enforcement action until August 16 — after the citizens groups tried to sue Duke. In its court filings, the state environmental agency said monitoring wells consistently showed high levels of arsenic, selenium, thallium and other potentially deadly chemicals. In October, the company agreed to pay at least $1.5 million of a $2.25 million Cape Fear Public Utility Authority project to run new water lines to Flemington.

The pollution poses no current health risk to the drinking wells, Duke spokesman Thomas Williams said in an email. But the company was involved in the project to "prevent that possibility."

"This will continue to assure a high quality water supply for these customers, give them peace of mind and provides additional economic development benefits for that area," Williams said.

Right, just like New Jersey is enjoying "economic development benefits" rebuilding homes that were destroyed by flooding. What about the $750,000 balance the taxpayers are footing for running these water lines, or the monthly water bills these residents are going to have to pay going down the road, because you f$%ked up their drinking water wells?


Are we making hay when the sun isn't shining?

I think this coal ash thing is horrible. We seem to be seeing a lot of contamination of both ground water and streams and rivers from industry all around our country. But, even though there is no doubt that Duke has been negligent on many fronts, it is going to be difficult to tie the current administration to that negligence or in being complicit in what has happened in the past. I think that if pushed, the GOP can make a legitimate case that much of the lack of oversight by government with regard to Duke came when republicans were not in power in the state.

So, even though I believe you aren't trying to make a blatant accusation against the McCrory administration here, I think it is hidden in your intent. North Carolina citizens aren't going to suddenly believe that new costs because of the coal ash revelations from Duke Energy are republican-specific. We have a pretty intelligent populace in our state.

We need to consider not continuing to beat this dead horse.

Thanks for the advice

And if the only reason I was complaining about coal ash (or any other environmental issue) was due to electoral politics, I might consider it. But it's not just a stick with which to clobber Republicans, it's an extremely important issue, and one which we've been talking about for years, long before the Republicans took over.

We have a pretty intelligent populace in our state.

Good one.


But more specifically, what's the point of trying to spread blame to those in charge during years gone by? The McCrory administration has hampered oversight and remediation efforts for more than a year, doing backroom deals with Duke Energy to keep them from receiving closer scrutiny. If that scrutiny had happened three months ago, the Dan River disaster could have been averted. It wasn't.

If Bev Perdue were still governor and the spill happened, she'd be catching holy hell and rightly so. She'd be held accountable for every little thing that might possibly ever be connected to the irresponsible actions of Duke Energy.

Anyone who doesn't understand that McCrory's relationship with Duke Energy is part of the problem here is not thinking straight. We're in for a mountain of mess in the future, and most people don't have a clue.

Finally, slack oversight isn't the main issue in any case. The main issue is a public monopoly that has been behaving badly, if not illegally, for decades. The entire leadership of Duke Energy is complicit in that behavior, including Path McCrory, Sharon Decker, and the rest of their management team that now rules state government. And one thing's for sure: all that crappy leadership is contagious.

The Feds....

...apparently didn't think the past administration's relationships with Duke Energy serious enough to open a criminal investigation.


Guess I shouldn't have gone THERE! It seems to have brought out the big guns.

I'm on your side, guys. Holy Smokes!

No worries

We're all here thinking out loud together. It's all good.

We're all in this together...

...and now that they've discovered a leak at the Cliffside plant that's just 15 miles from me, it's really got people interested and asking questions in a way that they normally don't do.

It does get tiresome beating the same old drum all the time.

But it seems to work well for the other side.


We are seeing problems now. I think you know I am sure (and so are you) that if there were tons and tons, gallons and gallons of leakage going into the Dan River during some other administration, there would have been a federal investigation. The investigation is about the leaks that have happened and will then include the relationship between Duke Power and government. If there was not a leak of this magnitude before now, why would there be an investigation and why would there be a question about Duke and government being complicit? I don't want to be snippy here, but nice try.

I do truly hope that there is not a ground water problem with that Cliffside plant leak you have presented. All of this is so troubling. We need solutions rather than finger pointing here. If Duke Power or any of their subsidiaries or anyone involved with them is at fault, then they should be prosecuted to the maximum. I believe that with all my heart because of the horrible health hazards that this could bring.

Making this somehow "political" is not going to solve what seems to be a very big, ongoing problem we have right now. Let's solve the problem and lay blame where it belongs without trying to make political hay out of it. The people of our state, especially those that are affected by these leaks and pollution and so forth deserve more than that.

Enforcement Philosophy

DENR, like the EPA, focus on a compliance-based enforcement system. Seriousness of environmental damage is just one of many factors when determining enforcement action. Culpability is much more of a factor. DENR has a great powerpoint that explains their goals and decision-making framework.

Essentially, there are three levels of environmental violations:

1. Self-reported accidental violations- If an entity discovers an unintentional violation and self-reports, they usually get a "slap on the wrist". This is in order to support a compliance mindset that encourages entities to monitor themselves and take proactive steps to minimize violations without the constant need for government inspections. We'll never have enough DENR monitoring and inspections, so this pushes self-regulation. In this situation, the entity will likely only be responsible for cleanup costs.

2. Accidental violations- This is very likely where Duke's coal ash pit lies. Even if DENR discovers an accidental violation, rather than by self-reporting, the penalties will be largely measured. We don't want to punish people too harshly when they intend to follow the law but either they make a mistake or they just have bad luck. Otherwise, it will make more sense for them to violate intentionally. They will pay for cleanup plus they'll lose any financial gain from their noncompliance. In really bad cases, they will pay a small civil penalty.

3. Intentional Violations- These are the bad guys in Captain Planet episodes. In order for the other two categories to work, DENR has to publicly and egregiously destroy these people with heavy civil penalties, and in some cases, criminal charges. DENR has to make sure that no sane person would ever do this intentionally. The only real constraint is statutory. Keep in mind though, the higher the penalty, the bigger the reason for the accused to challenge the action throughout the administrative process and judicial review. That damn Due Process clause that keeps getting in the way! As such, many of these situations result in settlements/ consent orders based on compromise.

I'm not trying to defend anyone as much as I am trying to give everyone some essential context to the discussion.

As for the possible Duke-McCrory conspiracy, I'll bet $100 that we will not see evidence of any clear quid pro quo for protection from enforcement from McCrory or any other government employee. Rhetoric aside, I would really be surprised if any government leader or employee was that stupid or that evil. What we may see is evidence of a general culture that is less adversarial towards Duke than we would like, akin to regulatory capture. No conspiracy, just familiarity. This is likely not a criminal issue, but does raise policy and managerial concerns. Maybe the U.S. Attorney knows something we don't though.