Weekly Conservation Bulletin

CIB 3/24/2014

The official review of key clean water rules begins, plus more coal ash developments and other news, this week in CIB:

Administrative Watch: Review Begins of Key Clean Water Rules

We've been waiting for it, and now it's begun: the formal review process for North Carolina's most critical legal protections for clean water. These are the rules that the state has used to demand protection of drinking water, water-based recreation, fishing and wildlife resources – and that citizens can use to force action when the state fails to do its job.

Many of these key protections from pollution have been in place for more than a decade, and have worked to hold many abuses in check. Regardless, the N.C. General Assembly as part of last year's regulatory "reform" legislation mandated that they all be put on a fast track for review. (And if they're not renewed, on greased rails to the trash heap.)

Among the provisions now under threat are the guidelines for the state's "antidegradation" policies, which state that pollution is not permitted to remove an "existing use" of waters (e.g., fishing, swimming, drinking supplies, wildlife). Rules under review also include the guidelines for protecting critical wetlands areas from dredging, filling, and destruction by development. These are among the chief rules long targeted by anti-environmental elements among the state's development community.

The public comment period for these rules and other related provisions opened March 17 and will run through May 21. Interested citizens can review the details and make comments here.

Legal experts working for various citizen conservation groups are working now to review key provisions and coordinate comments. CIB will monitor their efforts and report on this issue further in later editions.

Judicial Watch: No Stay of Cleanup Order; Grand Jury Meets

No Stay of Cleanup Order: The N.C. Superior Court judge who earlier this month ordered Duke Energy to take "immediate action" to stop pollution from its coal ash ponds has confirmed that he meant immediate. Judge Paul Ridgeway last week issued an order rejecting Duke's request that he postpone enforcement of his earlier directive while the utility mulled over the option of appealing his mandate to a higher court. Environmental intervenors opposed Duke's request and praised the court's conclusion that now means now. Of course, now we'll see whether Duke gets to work or begs for relief from a higher court level. For details, see here.

Grand Jury Meets: The federal grand jury looking into possible crimes involving the dealings between the State of North Carolina and Duke Energy over pollution from coal ash pits met last week. According to press reports, the grand jury was to examine documents and other materials with witnesses summoned from Duke Energy and the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Three former DENR staff members also met with staff of the Raleigh News & Observer to discuss some of the same issues. Read more details here.

Executive Watch: Nobody Had Time for This; NOW They Cooperate

Nobody Had Time for This: Both executive and legislative branches of state government continue to contort around the issue. But let's be candid: Due to long-term fiscal short rations, compounded by the current legislature and administration's crash diet for environmental enforcement staff, DENR hasn't even had the staff needed to do its job of inspections and enforcement. It's not surprising – an admission that this was part of the problem would trigger expectations that a responsible government would take steps to fix it. It's high time someone in authority admitted it, though – and here's some of the evidence.

NOW They Cooperate: It was late Friday afternoon, the usual time reserved for announcements that have to be made, even though someone would really rather they not get much attention. That's when DENR Secretary John Skvarla announced that his department would be working with their new friends at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to "pursue a joint approach" to addressing coal ash pollution problems. Secretary Skvarla was at pains to emphasize that DENR had invited EPA in so that they could work as a team. No pressure! We like our federal colleagues, and forget about anything we may have said in private last year. Media coverage shows a slightly different perspective, with DENR scampering one step ahead of the posse. For more details, see here.

Here is DENR's uncut version of last week's announcement.

Environomics: Solar Booms to Beat Tax Credit Expiration

As the N.C. state tax credit for solar panels nears its scheduled expiration at the end of 2015, developers are rushing to get solar farms planted in time to take advantage of the incentive. That's a contributing factor to the ongoing boom in solar energy development now underway in North Carolina. More here.

This may seem like a surprising concept to some of our representatives in Raleigh, but how's this for a thought: Let's continue the creation of jobs and expanding clean energy supplies – in a "business-friendly" way, no less – by renewing the solar tax credit. It surely beats throwing more money down the ratholes of an expanding load of ash from coal plants.

Conservationists: Browner Elected LCV Board Chair

The national League of Conservation Voters (LCV) announced last week the election of Carol Browner to chair the LCV Board of Directors. Browner is a former administrator of the EPA under President Clinton, as well as former Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy under President Obama.

See comments from Browner, LCV President Gene Karpinski, and other LCV leaders here.

That's our report for this week.

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