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12/21/2015: Coal coming to a stocking near you?

The truth comes out on coal ash cleanup, plus more news, this week in CIB.

Executive Watch: Most Coal Ash Pits Need Action Now

Officials at the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Duke Energy won’t admit it, but DEQ’s own draft technical report says that most of Duke’s coal ash pits need to be cleaned up on a high priority basis.

According to the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), DEQ staff analysis has found that <a “=”” href=”https://www.southernenvironment.org/news-and-press/news-feed/staff-report-majority-of-dukes-n.c.-coal-ash-lagoons-present-high-risk”>27 of Duke’s 32 coal ash lagoons in North Carolina fall in the “high risk” category which requires removal of the ash from its unlined pits to lined, dry storage facilities. SELC senior attorney Frank Holleman said, “We’ve been told all along by DEQ that science and facts will determine the outcome. If the political leadership at headquarters decides to change (the staff ratings), we would expect a very detailed, fact-based reason to change what they’re getting from the field.”

Unsurprisingly, DEQ official response distanced itself from these strong findings: “It would be irresponsible and premature to make final assumptions before Duke has provided DEQ with all of the data it needs,” responded DEQ spokesperson Stephanie Hawco. Duke too asserted that the draft report “predates a significant amount of data that we continue to provide to the agency.”

The less trusting among us may be excused for hearing those statements as laying the groundwork for yet another DEQ political-level decision to go easy on the Administration’s good friends at Duke. To some of us, it seems that this DEQ is far too ready to always conclude that Duke will provide it with “all of the data it needs” to reach its obedient conclusions.

Administrative Watch: Citizens Slam DEQ’s Fake ‘Plan’

Meanwhile, over at the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC), concerned citizens were taking aim at the McCrory Administration’s alleged “plan” to respond to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan requirements. As CIB has previously reported, the “plan” was bum-rushed through a compliant EMC to public hearing without independent analysis (which would have shown it out for the house of cards it is).

News reports indicate that a packed hearing room of citizens in Raleigh delivered three hours of criticism (three minutes per speaker) of the woefully inadequate proposal, which even the EMC members agree will not meet federal requirements.

The night before, an equally outraged batch of public commenters in Charlotte slammed the same sorry plan. We can anticipate more of that well-deserved public ripping-apart of DEQ’s/McCrory Administration’s “plan” at the last of three scheduled public hearings in Wilmington on January 5.

Instead of a plan to meet the required clean air goals, NC DEQ (under the direction of its appointed political leaders) has created a plan literally designed to fail, in support of the Administration’s lawsuit against EPA. In addition to the in-person comments at the hearings, DEQ has already received more than 5,000 written public comments on the plan. Additional public comments on the plan can be made in writing via email to Joelle.Burleson@ncdenr.gov until January 15, 2016. Click here to find out more information on the plan and how to submit your comments.

Washington Watch: Budget Deal Boosts Renewables – and Oil

Is the clean energy cup half full or half empty? Opinions differ, but here’s what has happened through the federal budget bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last week.

On the good news side, renewable energy tax credits received a multi-year boost that has many solar and wind energy advocates excited. The extensions include both the residential and commercial investment tax credit for solar, and the production tax credit for wind. Bloomberg Finance called it an “unprecedented boost” for the renewable energy industry that will “change [its] course of deployment in the U.S.” and add an estimated extra 20 gigawatts of solar power and 19 gigawatts of wind power over the next five years.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) says this combination of steps “sets the stage for continued development of clean and affordable energy across the country, including here in the Southeast.” The American Wind Energy Association lauds the increased stability and predictability for wind investments, and the U.S. Department of Energy projects that jobs in the wind energy could rise from 73,000 today to 380,000 by 2020. Combined, these investments will play a major role in federal Clean Energy Plan implementation.

On the down side, the budget deal also included a provision lifting the 40-year-old prohibition on exporting crude oil produced in the United States. Prior to the budget deal’s passage, most major national environmental groups hammered that proposal, even going so far as to say that there was “no conceivable deal” that they thought would be worth that price. Ultimately, that position did not carry the day in Washington this time.

In reaction, analysis offered by the national League of Conservation Voters (LCV) made the best of this mixture of tasty and sour grapes. LCV senior vice president Tiernan Sittenfeld said, “We strongly oppose lifting the crude oil export ban – a massive handout to Big Oil that incentivizes drilling and fracking. It’s no surprise that Senator McConnell made this his top legislative priority, but he and other extreme Republicans in Congress were forced to stop standing in the way of badly needed, bipartisan efforts to extend clean energy tax credits and a short-term reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We are also pleased that they had to abandon their attempt to include more than 100 extreme anti-environmental riders.”

Climate Change Update: Reactions to Paris Deal

As CIB reported last week, the international climate negotiations in Paris concluded with an accord by the representatives of 195 nations (including the United States) to hold global average temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Centigrade by 2100. The parties agreed on the need to move away from carbon-based fuels, and on a basic plan for doing so.

When we ran our story last week, the weekend news was so fresh that our coverage was brief. In supplement to that story, therefore, we link here some notable environmental community responses:

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): “Finally the world stands united against the central environmental challenge of our time, committed to cutting the carbon pollution that’s driving climate change.” Read more here.

Southern Alliance for Safe Energy (SACE) welcomed the “broad voluntary agreement among 196 countries to reduce carbon pollution” and the “commitment to transparency, which will be important for maintaining progress towards reduction goals.” SACE also cautioned that “the devil is in the details” of implementation which will “take work from all of us to see the promise of Paris delivered.” Read more here.

North Carolina-based Climate Post offers more review here.

That’s our report for this week.

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