Weekly Conservation Bulletin

CIB 4/21/2014

What does the new McCrory proposal on coal ash really mean? Plus other news, this week in CIB:

Executive Watch: Another Stall on Coal Ash

Gov. Pat McCrory last week proposed legislation which would let the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) direct Duke Energy to "close" its coal ash ponds – an authority which DENR already inherently has through its clean water permitting process – but leave Duke proposing how such "closures" would take place.

Strip away the double-talk and it's clear that the governor is doing little more than asking for the General Assembly's blessing on his plan to let Duke continue to call the shots on coal ash.

"All this is doing is attempting to put into law what Duke wants to do anyway, which is leave in place its ash at different sites where it continues to be a risk and continues to threaten communities," said Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) attorney Frank Holleman. More here.

The proposed legislation adds inspectors and compliance employees at DENR – a reversal of the trend under McCrory thus far – but also contains provisions that would effectively nullify the existing court order requiring Duke to immediately act to halt and clean up groundwater pollution from the ponds. More here.

WaterKeeper Alliance attorney Peter Harrison said of the proposal, "This approach is unacceptable because it would allow these toxic dumps to continue leaking and poisoning our rivers and groundwater supplies with toxic heavy metals for many years to come." (Associated Press, 4/17/14.)

In comments to reporters, DENR Secretary John Skvarla defended the approach of letting Duke leave coal ash ponds in place near at-risk waters: "The governor and I are adamant that one size probably will not fit all 33 ash ponds. The engineering and science is going to be a little more complicated than digging them all up and moving them to landfills."

Environmentalists call foul over this latest rehash of the McCrory Administration's plan to let Duke tell DENR what to do about coal ash. Governor McCrory needs to come to the realization that he is now the chief executive official of the State of North Carolina, and no longer a career employee of Duke Energy.

Judicial Watch: Appeals Court Upholds Coal Mercury Standards

In judicial good news at the federal level, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last week upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) emissions standards for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from power plants. The court rejected challenges from some states and industry groups that the EPA findings were not adequately supported by the evidence and should have taken into account cost of compliance by industry.

Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) attorney John Suttles said, "Today's decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals secures critically important safeguards for people's health, particularly in the Southeast, where people are vulnerable to some of the largest concentrations of coal-fired plants in the country. Coal plants are among the largest sources of toxic pollution into the air we breathe." SELC represents several health group intervenors in the case, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility. More here.

The Other Side: North Carolina Energy Forum

CIB recently received an invitation to something billed as "NC Family Energy Day" on May 10 in Winston-Salem. The sponsor is noted as the North Carolina Energy Forum. Curious, we ran a check on the group.

Its policies and politics are clear enough: It's pro-fracking, pro-offshore drilling, pro-Keystone pipeline. That much (and related material) fills its webpage. But who is behind it, really? On that point, it's less forthcoming, preferring to call itself simply "a community of concerned citizens and partners committed to improving the public's understanding and support of the opportunities presented by the diverse energy resources here in our state." Aw, shucks, it must be Sheriff Andy and his pals from Mayberry.

Well, not actually. According to SourceWatch (the money-tracking program of the Center for Media and Democracy), it's our friends in the largest trade group for the oil and gas industry, the American Petroleum Institute (API). As it turns out, API sets up front groups typically called [Your State] Energy Forum in almost every state. Each has a website with a template featuring articles promoting fracking, offshore drilling, and the Keystone pipeline, among other materials.

You can go to the America's Energy Forum site  and link to the cookie-cutter sites around the country, including North Carolina's. Why wouldn't these sites just come on out and acknowledge their connections? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the oil industry ranks up there in popularity with the Internal Revenue Service on tax day?

In any case, if we turn out for "Family Energy Day" this May, we'll expect our music and North Carolina barbecue to come with a heaping helping of oil industry propaganda on the side.

Education & Resources: Advocating with Compassion

Have you ever thought about how to make the case for environmental conservation within the framework of your (and your neighbors') religious faith? This can often provide a shared perspective reaching across the usual political and ideological lines.

On April 27 in Charlotte, the N.C. Interfaith Power & Light is providing a free workshop on that very topic. They caption it "Advocating with Compassion" and describe it as "a free faith community workshop on the moral call to be good stewards of Creation."

For more details and to register, go here.

Conservationists: New Online Scorecard, Membership Survey

NCLCV has teed up two new online tools for members and friends.

First, NCLCV's 2013 Environmental Scorecard for legislators is now available in a new interactive format which permits users to search the records of their own representatives directly. It features a color-coded map to help interpret how members are doing on the environment. Finally, it includes ways for viewers to quickly contact their legislators (via phone, email, tweet, or Facebook) to let them know what you think of their votes. Check out our scorecard here.

Reviewing 2013 scores will help you predict those legislators earning special recognition at the 2014 Green Tie Awards being held in Raleigh on May 27. Make your predictions and then tune in to the April 28 CIB to learn the actual award winners. For sponsorship and tickets go here.

Second, NCLCV members have just received an invitation to give us feedback on the environmental issues of greatest importance to you, and the communications methods you prefer for hearing about and acting on them. Didn't get the survey, or misplaced the email? Get to the NCLCV member survey directly on our website here.

That's our report for this week.

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