The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources changed its position on a controversial reservoir project in Cleveland County, shortly before depositions were set to begin in a lawsuit against it.
That's right, after Bev Perdue's DENR consistently opposed an unnecessary reservoir that environmental groups call a "real estate scheme", Pat McCrony's DENR put the reservoir on a fast track.
Ten days after a massive spill of coal ash into the Dan River in Rockingham County, state health officials on Wednesday warned people against swimming in the river or eating fish from it.
Health officials warned against "recreational contact" with the river or sediment, including contacting any ash that washed up along the river banks. Because contact with the ash can cause skin irritation, people should wash exposed areas with soap and water, officials said.
Also, people should avoid eating fish or shellfish from the river downstream of the spill, they said.
No shit, Sherlock. In other news, you shouldn't try to lick a frozen pole.
The chairman of the Senate Rules Committee said Tuesday that he is drafting legislation that would force Duke Energy to clean up 14 coal ash ponds around North Carolina like the one that dumped thousands of gallons of toxic sludge into the Dan River last week.
"Just letting them sit there is not the answer to the problem," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.
Lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have balked at legislation in years past that would have forced power companies to remove the waste from their coal ash ponds.
As the lawsuit enters the phase of settlement negotiations, conservation groups such as Appalachian Voices want to join as plaintiffs alongside the state because, they say, officials with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources may try to reach a settlement with Duke that does not go far enough to hold the company accountable or limit damage to groundwater.
“We don’t have complete confidence that DENR will come up with a remediation that will protect its citizens and so we’re getting involved to make sure the citizens of Belews Creek are protected from any potential contamination or health damages,” said Adams, who is a former DENR supervisor.
If left to his own devices, Skvarla would do whatever it takes to make sure Duke Energy feels no pain and doesn't have to spend a farthing fixing their toxic messes. He also doesn't seem to understand that his happy talk doesn't go over well with true environmentalists:
Every meaningful state protection for clean water in North Carolina will be at grave risk of being cut back or eliminated in the rules review process starting this week in Raleigh. At a hearing opening at 10 a.m. this Thursday, January 16, the powerful state Rules Review Commission (RRC) will outline its plan for sifting the “necessary” protections out of the wide body of state laws on water quality.
As the RRC adopts its procedural rules, the state Environmental Management Commission (EMC) is preparing its own review of 375 surface water and wetland rules that the Division of Water Resources says will need to go through the review and re-adoption process.
Were these across-the-board evaluations being conducted by experts it would still represent a problem, simply due to the volume of rules in question. But since many recent General Assembly appointees have demonstrated a severe lack of understanding and/or an outright aversion to science, it's a good bet many of these rules will be swept away with little or no debate. Hard-headedness and ignorance might be humorous in casual conversation, but that won't stop the damage from being done.
The state rejected a federal grant meant to strengthen wetlands protections and then announced the eventual abolishment of a key wetlands program. It decided not to review a federal wetlands permit in the western part of the state, as is customary and required under federal law, and determined that no wetlands were being filled in a large land-clearing operation in Pamlico County. Budgets and staff have been cut at the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, or DENR, the agency most responsible for protecting wetlands. In an ongoing department reorganization, key staff has been shifted and whole divisions have been abolished or moved to other state departments.
Perhaps even more troubling, some said in recent interviews, is what appears to be a discernible shift in attitude. DENR’s leaders have said they want the department to be more business-friendly. Will the remake lead to a more laissez-faire view of wetlands protection?
This is what happens when those in leadership positions are put there for political purposes, as opposed to their understanding of the science involved. Wetlands aren't just havens for a wide range of species, they serve a critical function in filtering nutrients and toxins from our water. And considering the massive increases in the volume and variety of pollutants our technologies have produced, we need them now more than ever. But all these "business-friendly" hacks see is undeveloped acreage. As to science? We don't need no stinking science:
The 4,658-acre tract is owned by Spring Creek Farms LLC, which is registered in Illinois, according to Pamlico County tax records. About 250 acres on the south side of State Road 1324 have been cleared, a fact acknowledged last month by Abel Harmon of Hydeland Construction & Consulting in Swanquarter, who is working on the project. Farming could begin any time after the land clearing is completed, Harmon said in late September.
Not only do these wetlands provide a habitat for a wide range of local and migrating species, they also serve as a natural water filter to absorb toxins and nutrients. By turning these wetlands into agricultural tracts, you're taking away that filter and introducing even more toxins and nutrients via pesticides and fertilizers. Not good, to say the least. What's even more frustrating about this issue is the fact that once you've drained the wetlands, DENR no longer considers them wetlands anymore, and refuses to take action:
With DENR reducing employment in divisions responsible for permitting, our first fear is that the permit granting process will be slowed. For many years, business leaders and developers complained that DENR failed to process permit applications quickly enough. In previous sessions, legislators increased staffing and trimmed procedures to speed permit decisions.
If permit approval slows because there are fewer employees to do the work, we fear that both investments and jobs will be lost.
When the Legislature did its "listening tour" a few years ago, the number one complaint from business leaders was the amount of time it took to get permits issued from DENR. Tales of a six-month wait, or in some cases a year or more, were brought to light. And how do Republicans respond? By cutting back on the number of permitting agents. So much for "business-friendly" politicians. Just like the regulators themselves, those business leaders are merely pawns in the GOP's drive to destroy DENR.
To that end, the grant would have allowed North Carolina to develop a network of sites to test streams and survey wildlife before and after fracking occurs. The “before” is critical – having a thorough baseline of data would help the state better document issues that might be linked to fracking.
What will happen instead? Division of Water Resources director Tom Reeder says there still will be testing at fracking sites, because N.C. law requires it. But the law, which was drawn up by a Republican-led legislature, doesn’t require the thoroughness of testing that the EPA grant would have provided. In fact, the law even lets the testing be done by the companies that will perform the fracking. That’s not the kind of comfort we have in mind.
I actually heard Tom Reeder say that drillers would do testing before fracking begins, in a News14 story in the last few days. Trying to find it now, and will update diary when I do. Until then, here are a few questions for lawmakers: are you going to let potential Welfare recipients drug test themselves at home, and trust their findings afterward? Is the NC Bar going to allow aspiring attorneys to take the Bar exam at home, and tell you if they passed? Why would you allow a company that could expose itself to millions in damage do their own baseline water quality testing? It defies logic.
John Skvarla, the fox in charge of the DENR henhouse, already told us that he had a "new mission" in mind for his agency's water quality division.
Now we see more clearly what that new mission is: completely ignore water quality issues. If water becomes polluted, we'll stick our heads in the sand. Because we wouldn't want to know about any harm that Skvarla's corporate profiteer buddies are doing to the environment in their quest for more almighty dollars.
North Carolina applied for a federal grant to monitor water quality that might be poisoned by fracking. The grant was approved.
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