Weekly Conservation Bulletin
The 2013 report card for most of NC's Congressional delegation stinks, plus more coal ash controversy and other news, this week in CIB:
Campaign Watch: LCV Releases 2013 Grades for Congress
A majority of North Carolina's Congressional delegation (seven House members and one Senator) earned "abysmal" ratings of 15% or less on the 2013 National Environmental Scorecard released by NCLCV and the national League of Conservation Voters in North Carolina last week. Two of those – Representatives Renee Ellmers and Patrick McHenry – earned absolute zeroes. Another six scored a bare 4% positive on this annual compilation of key environmental votes of the year in Congress.
On the positive side, three House members and one Senator earned strongly positive scores of 85% or better. They were Sen. Kay Hagan, and Representatives Mel Watt, David Price, and G.K. Butterfield.
NCLCV Director of Governmental Affairs Dan Crawford said, "Despite a record-breaking year of climate change impacts, members like Representatives Ellmers and McHenry put their polluting special interest allies first. "
The 2013 scorecard covers votes on issues ranging from public health protections, to clean energy, to land and wildlife conservation. The full scorecard can be reviewed here.
Executive Watch: Feds Launch Criminal Investigation on Coal Ash
Conservationists have long thought that for regulators to collaborate with industry to paper over pollution problems and block enforcement of environmental laws ought to be a crime.
Come to think of it, perhaps it is.
The U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of North Carolina last week launched a criminal investigation apparently into the state's handling of complaints against pollution and dangers from Duke Energy's massive coal ash storage facilities, as well as the huge February 2 spill of ash into the Dan River.
The U.S. Attorney issued grand jury subpoenas to the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Duke for "emails, memos and reports related to the Feb. 2 spill into the Dan River and the state's oversight of the company's 30 other coal ash dumps in North Carolina." A subpoena also directs DENR's chief attorney to appear and testify before the grand jury in March.
While the U.S. Attorney's office declined to specify the specifics of who is being investigated and for what possible crime(s), the Associated Press (AP) notes that the grand jury subpoenas were issued the day after an AP story on DENR's three recent preemptive filings to head off private citizen group enforcement actions, and its subsequent settlement of the filings on terms considered highly favorable to Duke. More here.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has been seeking information from DENR and Duke on the same topics, with mixed results. A senior attorney with SELC commented, "Now it's going to be a lot harder to stonewall a grand jury." More here.
As reported in the earlier AP story, SELC and other groups have tried three times over the past year to sue to force Duke to clean up the coal ash storage. Each time, the state has stepped in to head off the more aggressive lawsuit by the citizen groups. More here.
In other coal ash news of the week, DENR issued a warning to the public to avoid "recreational contact" (e.g., swimming and wading) in the waters contaminated by the Dan River spill, and to avoid eating fish caught from those waters. This recognition of real damage came a mere week after the release of water tests taken miles downstream from the spills, which DENR and Duke used to downplay the contamination levels caused by the tons of ash which poured into the river. More here.
The ongoing consequences of the Dan River spill is already giving pause to at least some legislators not heretofore known by their voting records to be overly worried about the state of pollution control enforcement in North Carolina. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) wants a legislative inquiry. Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson), chair of the Senate Rules and Operations Committee, wants Duke's ash ponds gone "as quickly as they can." More here.
Beyond the ponds, the case being opened before a federal grand jury in North Carolina could even help push changes in the way DENR does business more broadly. We should push for that result.
Washington Watch: EPA Issues Guidelines on Diesel in Fracking
The EPA last week issued "guidelines" on the use of diesel in the fluids used for underground injection in the natural gas mining process called "fracking". While the agency indicated that applications for permits to undertake fracking using diesel would be made on a case by case basis, the terms of the guidance are intended to help clarify how it will evaluate such permit requests.
Under one of the political compromises in federal clean water law, EPA has the authority to regulate fracking only if diesel is used as part of the fracking fluids. In responding to the EPA's announcement, some environmental advocates commended the EPA's move, but called for outright denial of permits for fracking using diesel. Environment America's Clean Water Program director Courtney Abrams said, "The EPA has made a small step toward curbing one of many threats from fracking. And while EPA lacks the authority to stop fracking entirely, the agency can and should bar the use of diesel fuel in fracking fluid, once and for all." Environmental and community advocates are concerned about the potential of toxic materials in fracking fluid to contaminate ground and surface water resources. More here.
In the media statement announcing issuance of the revised guidelines, EPA sought to nudge states to regulate where it by law cannot:
"Although developed specifically for hydraulic fracturing where diesel fuels are used, many of the guidance’s recommended practices are consistent with best practices for hydraulic fracturing in general, including those found in state regulations and model guidelines for hydraulic fracturing developed by industry and stakeholders. Thus, states and tribes responsible for issuing permits and/or updating regulations for hydraulic fracturing may find the recommendations useful in improving the protection of underground sources of drinking water and public health more broadly."
Education & Resources: Carbon Rules and the Southeast
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) is holding a webinar at noon on Wednesday, February 26, to review the topic, "What Upcoming Carbon Regulations Mean for the Southeast".
Regarding the webinar, SACE says, "In June of this year, the Environmental Protection Agency will propose the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. These proposed limits are being developed using section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act and will be designed to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from our electricity sector. This webinar will provide an introduction to 111(d) regulations, explain the various ways EPA can establish carbon pollution standards, what this means for coal plants and regulators in the Southeast, and how you and your organization can be involved."
That's our report for this week.