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CIB 10/31/2016: Election 2016 gives new meaning to “trick or treat”

Given the range of outcomes possible in this election, from great forward progress to environmental political disaster, Campaign 2016 is giving new meaning to the Halloween theme of “trick or treat!” This week in CIB:

Executive Watch: DEQ Says Toxic Standard Not Its Problem

Duke Energy and its most reliable ally, the McCrory Administration, are anxious to drop the debate about coal ash pits and toxic well contamination. In their haste to get away from it all, they appear to be misreading and misrepresenting the results of a recent Duke University researchers’ study on the possible origins of hexavalent chromium in well water. That study, released to the media last week, concluded that contamination of well water by the carcinogenic chemical was too widespread to likely be coming from the coal ash pits.

Duke says that the study supports its position that “it’s time to move forward with safely closing ash basins” in ways that cut costs.

However, the study’s lead author (Avner Vengosh) emphasized that it was not giving Duke’s ash pits a clean bill of health. “The impact of leaking coal ash ponds on water resources is still a major environmental issue,” says Vengosh.

Vengosh’s previous studies have specifically connected coal ash pits with other toxic leaks, including carcinogenic arsenic.

Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, says that it’s important to keep attention on the problem of contamination from coal ash ponds but that the issue of hexavalent chromium contamination of wells is “much larger than we thought.”

To face that threat, he said, “We need urgently a standard for hexavalent chromium. We need to know what thousands of well owners should be doing.”

The McCrory DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) doesn’t feel the urgency. Its spokespeople have said that NC will wait for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update the federal standard. Even though Vengosh’s new study underscores the breadth of this known carcinogen’s threat, North Carolina’s current leading regulators would prefer to stick their heads in the sand and wait for someone else to do their job rather than deal with this problem head-on.

On reflection, that position seems no more than a logical extension of their reaction when faced with their own scientific staff’s conclusion that well owners near coal ash pits were at health risk. Instead of doing everything they could to find out how widespread the problem was, warn all those at risk, and act aggressively to deal with the problem, they tried to cover it over. Then, when their role became public, they attacked their own lead scientists who warned them. Why would we expect their response to independent scientific experts to be any different?

As we have observed before, it appears that only a change in the top management of this administration—the governor’s office—will free DEQ’s scientific staff to get back to doing their job of protecting the natural resources and health of North Carolinians.


Education & Resources: Study Supports Call for Electric Grid Boost

A new report released last week supports calls to upgrade the U.S. electric transmission grid as a key to boosting the increase of renewable energy sources in our power generation.

The newly released analysis reviewed the state of the electric transmission grid in the eastern United States, the potential for new renewable energy generation, and the updates in the grid needed to maximize employment of renewables. It concluded that the grid could handle 30% of its total power supply from renewables within ten years, but only with “serious upgrades to the bulk power system.”

These findings underscore the importance of the specifics of Hillary Clinton’s clean energy platform details. Clinton has made new energy infrastructure a central commitment of her campaign platform. While her call for deployment of a half-billion new solar power panels is the one most likely to catch the headlines, she always includes as well a reference to the need to improve the electric transmission grid in order to carry and distribute the new clean electricity being generated.

Observers often note that this emphasis on nuts-and-bolts detail falls short of the soaring inspirational rhetoric of the best political speaking. That’s true—but understanding these details is a necessary part of putting resources into the right spots to make change happen. That ability to effectively implement change for a cleaner energy system and environment is one of the key reasons why the mainstream national citizen environmental advocacy groups (including the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and the NRDC Action Fund) are strongly backing Clinton for president.


Campaign Watch: Please Vote Now with the Environment in Mind!

Don’t wait until Election Day. Take advantage of “early voting” to cast your votes now!

Multiple new early voting sites opened in counties across North Carolina last week, as our state moved into the second (and final) week of “early voting” opportunities. Unlike on the regular election day itself (Tuesday, November 8, this year), during “early voting” you can cast your vote at any open polling site within your county of residence. And if there is any unexpected problem with your registration, you can correct or update your registration during early voting and then vote on the spot. (You cannot do that on election day.)

NCLCV recommends that concerned NC citizens make a plan to vote early, so as to ensure that your vote will count. (You never know what emergencies may pop up to call you elsewhere on election day.)

To help with your plan, here’s where you can find information on early voting site locations and schedules in your county.

And don’t forget: The comprehensive updated list of NCLCV’s recommendations for state and legislative elections this year is available to help in your deliberations of how to cast those votes with the environment and public health in mind. Here’s where you can find it. It includes statewide endorsements of Roy Cooper for governor, Josh Stein for attorney general, and Dan Blue III for state treasurer.

Also relevant to North Carolina voters, the national League of Conservation Voters has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and Deborah Ross for U.S. Senate.

There’s no excuse for forgetting to vote—so please vote with the environment in mind, and take a friend or two with you! The future of our planet and our people depends on it.


Conservationists: Rep. Paul Luebke

NCLCV was saddened by news of the unexpected passing of Rep. Paul Luebke, long-time champion of public health and a clean environment for all North Carolinians. Since 1991, Paul served as a state representative from Durham, fighting for progressive policies to ensure all of his constituents were able to access the best quality of life. As a professor at UNC-Greensboro, he was an early proponent of limiting financial incentives to the power companies for excess construction of unneeded nuclear and coal-fired power plants. CIB Editor Dan Besse recalls their shared successes in working for electric utility finance reform in North Carolina in the 1980s. Rep. Luebke, a champion for North Carolina’s people and natural resources, had been diagnosed with lymphoma in fall 2015. At NCLCV’s 2016 Green Tie Awards in May, Rep. Luebke earned this year’s Representative of the Year award for his steadfast dedication to prioritizing the state’s air, land, and water in all policy decisions. He will be greatly missed.

That’s our report for this week.

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