CIB 10/17/16: Damaging report shows NC air dirtier under McCrory’s watch

A new study details how enforcement of air pollution controls has collapsed in NC under the McCrory Administration. This week in CIB:

Executive Watch: Environmental Enforcement Has Collapsed Under McCrory

Air pollution enforcement actions in North Carolina were cut in half between 2011 and 2014. Penalties for violations of air pollution limits dropped by a shocking 93 percent over the same period. Major polluters have dramatically increased the toxic pollution they spew into our air, without effective response by state environmental regulators.

This damning state of affairs is revealed in an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, using documents and records obtained from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

This evidence shows the fallout from the McCrory Administration’s systematic contempt for enforcing legal limits on pollutant emissions in our state. He and his appointees have opted instead for a so-called ‘customer [polluter] friendly’ approach of slow, weak enforcement of existing limits, backed up by actively suing federal environmental agencies when they attempt to require stronger pollution controls. (Legal challenges to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule are key examples of the McCrory default to fighting for weaker pollution control rules.)

And the McCrory Administration has overseen a dramatic cut in state agency staff to monitor and enforce the permits and laws we have. From 2008 to 2014, environmental enforcement staff numbers in NC have been cut by a full one-third, one of the most dramatic levels of cutback in the nation. That decline can be jointly attributed to the governor and the legislature, which has played its own active role over that time in contributing to the precipitous decline of environmental enforcement in our state.

Together, those patterns have resulted in cases like the Dontar wood chip processing plant near Plymouth, which increased its air emissions of toxic hydrogen sulfide by 78 percent in a single year (from 2013 to 2014). State regulators didn’t notice it, and the company didn’t tell them until the year after it saw the increases in its own monitoring. According to the EPA, the modest fine assessed by the state represents just a fraction of the economic benefit enjoyed by the plant from being allowed to operate in violation of its pollution limits—until a future compliance date of June 2018.

Whatever McCrory’s campaign rhetoric, these hard numbers and case examples show his administration’s real priorities: lighter reins and lowered costs for his corporate friends with public health protection an afterthought at best. North Carolina desperately needs a change in the governor’s office.

Campaign Watch: Registration Deadline Extended in 36 Counties

voteA last-minute court decision on Friday ordered the North Carolina voter registration deadline extended in 36 eastern counties most affected by hurricane-related flooding. NC Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens issued the order after hearing arguments from attorneys representing the State Board of Elections, the NC Democratic Party (which filed the complaint seeking an extension) and the NC Republican Party (which opposed the extension).

Under Judge Stephen’s extension order, citizens resident in the 36 affected counties have until 5 p.m. this Wednesday, October 19, to turn in their new voter registration form to their local county Board of Elections. Early voting begins statewide at 8 a.m. on Thursday, October 20. Same-day registration and voting will continue to be available during the early voting period.

Around the State: Power Plant Whoops; Factory Farm Waste Fears

The record flooding in the wake of Hurricane Matthew is revealing the extreme dangers posed to public health and the environment by the extensive systems of surface pond waste storage by power plants and factory farm operations in our state.

Power Plant Pond Whoops: All is well. Nothing to see here. Move along…uh, whoops.

About mid-day one day last week, Duke Energy put out a news release statement that “ash basin and cooling pond dams continue to operate safely around the state” despite record flooding levels. The release downplayed concerns about the safety of coal ash and cooling water ponds at its retired H.F. Lee power plant on the Neuse River near Goldsboro.

Less than two hours later, a WRAL news crew alerted Duke to a visible gushing breach of water coming out of one of its old cooling ponds at Lee. Duke’s release had attempted to throw shade at warnings from the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper that pond breaches at the Lee Plant were a danger as the hurricane-related flood waters recede. As it turned out, however, clean water advocates have good basis for their concerns for the public’s resources. The full magnitude of threat to power plant ponds was still unfolding as of the end of the week.

Factory Farm Waste Fears: News was especially grim, with the extent of impacts still unknown, when it comes to the even more widespread threat of swine waste ponds associated with CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations—a.k.a., factory farms) in the flooded regions. The Waterkeeper Alliance reports that its “Rapid Response” protocol involving 13 riverkeeper organizations has documented severe problems involving poultry operations, hog waste lagoons, and the streams and rivers receiving the polluted runoff.

Education & Resources: ‘Sonic Sea’ Screenings

Sonic Sea documentaryNCLCV and other Don’t Drill NC coalition partners will host two more screenings of the film Sonic Sea this week—this time for lovers of the coast who live in the mountains.

Screenings (followed by discussion) of the film will be held in Boone on Wednesday, October 19, at 3 p.m. and again at 7 p.m.

For details and to register for the 3 p.m. screening, see here.

For details and to register for the 7 p.m. screening, see here.

Sonic Sea is a 60-minute documentary detailing the detrimental effects on sea life from sonic airgun blasting, a step in the process of determining where to drill offshore for oil and gas.

People who have questions about the screenings or who are interested in showing one in their area may contact Katie Todd, NCLCV’s Director of Digital Strategies, at katie@nclcv.org or at (919) 244-5868.
That’s our report for this week.

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