July 23rd Monthly Meeting: Outdoor Treasures of Mecklenburg County

Outdoor Treasures

Please join us on Wednesday July 23rd for a presentation on the Outdoor Treasures of Mecklenburg County.

Stephen Hutchinson, Nature Center Manager at Latta Plantation, will present on the abundant resources of Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation Department. You will be delighted to learn about such great opportunities as kayak tours, canoe rentals, horseback riding, tractor drawn hay rides, cowboy style campfire dinners, Segway adventure tours, GPS treasure hunts, hiking, camping, and more – all nearby.

As usual our meeting is at the Mahlon Adams Pavilion in Freedom Park. It begins at 6:30pm with free pizza, followed by a short business meeting, and then the formal presentation.

Parking is free. All are welcome. We look forward to seeing you.

Sierra Club NC Chapter – Legislative Update 07-18-14

Protect Enviro Democracy

Dear Friends,

This week in the General Assembly it began to really feel like the end of session with a variety of old proposals resurfacing and quickly moving through committees without much discussion.

Update on the coal ash bill:

On Monday the Senate failed to concur on the coal ash bill – S 729 – which means that House and Senate conferees will negotiate a final bill behind closed doors. Senator Apodaca asked Senators to not concur so that some changes made by the House could be fixed. Apodaca specifically noted that he does not support the variance procedure added by the House that would allow the Secretary of DENR to approve variances to deadlines in the bill and he does not support housing the new Coal Ash Management Commission under DENR. The Senate’s version of the coal ash bill had the Coal Ash Management Commission housed under the Department of Public Safety. We expect to see changes to both of these parts in a final bill. Senate conferees were appointed yesterday – they are: Senators Berger (R – Guilford, Rockingham), Wade (R – Guilford) and Apodaca (R – Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania). House conferees have not yet been officially appointed but Representatives McGrady (R – Henderson), Samuelson (R – Mecklenburg)and Hager (R – Burke, Rutherford) carried the bill in the House so they are very likely be appointed as conferees. The coal ash bill may not come to a final vote until the very end of session (which should be in the next few weeks) because votes on major bills are often held back until the end to encourage negotiation between the chambers.

Opportunity for Action:

As you may recall, the coal ash bill still lacks assurances that groundwater and surface water will be protected from continuing pollution at all sites. Please contact the Senate conferees and ask them to add clear standards to the bill to ensure that any closure method allowed is protective of groundwater near coal ash sites.

Everything old is new again?

  • Last session the House passed H 201, then called “Reinstate 2009 Energy Conservation Codes” to roll back energy efficiency requirements for commercial buildings. But the bill was never brought to a vote in the Senate. This week, the Senate Rules Committee introduced a revised version of H 201 that renames it “Building Reutilization for Economic Development Act” and narrows the impact of the energy efficiency rollbacks but then proposes new exemptions from stormwater rules and the NC Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for some commercial buildings. If passed, the result would be that some commercial buildings would be allowed to be built 30% less efficient and would get exemptions from the NC Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). We understand that the intent of the bill is to help one company redevelop a building, but nonetheless its a statewide bill. Energy use in buildings accounts for 70% of total electricity use. And since buildings have a lifespan of between 50 and 75 years it’s critical that new construction be to efficient standards to reduce our overall energy usage and dependency on dirty energy like coal. H 201 is calendared to be voted on by the Senate on Monday.
  • S 883 “Disapprove/Amend Buffer Rules” would strike a list of environmental rules created to protect water quality that were only recently adopted. The existing rules resulted from a lengthy stakeholder negotiation process in which environmental groups were involved. The new proposed rules were created by a separate stakeholder group that did not include environmental groups. One of many problems we see with this bill includes striking a requirement for those who do mitigation projects to provide funds for long term maintenance. Mitigation projects are meant to make up for the loss of wetlands and habitat to development but if we don’t ensure their long-term success we are not really mitigating our losses. More to follow on this bill. S 883 is on the Senate calendar for Monday evening along with H 201.

And why should we have to choose between education and transit?

H 1224 “Local Sales Tax for Education/Econ Dev Changes” was revised by the Senate this week to add a cap on the total sales tax a county may levy and disallow counties from using local sales tax revenues to fund both public education and public transit (thereby forcing a choice between the two). The Senate changes to this bill received negative attention from a number of groups this week, including Sierra Club. H 1224 was removed from the Senate calendar Thursday and sent to Senate Finance Committee where there will likely be revisions proposed on Monday evening. We created an action alert on this bill for Wake County residents since we know that Wake County is considering a transit tax; but again this is a statewide bill so if this concerns you please contact your Senator.

Thank you for your interest and volunteer advocacy! Be on the lookout for more frequent updates and action alerts as the legislative session comes to a close.  The end of session always brings surprises.

Best,

Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations

Sierra Club – NC Chapter

cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org

NC Sierra Club Footnotes Online – July 2014

North Carolina Chapter Sierra Club

Dear friends,

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Our newsletter has a new look this month.  It’s part of our ongoing effort to make it easier for you to understand what’s going on in North Carolina and for you to take action on issues you care about.

Please enjoy this issue of Footnotes and thanks for all the work that you do to make our state a better place to explore, enjoy, and protect.

Cheers,

Your staff at the North Carolina Sierra Club

 

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Take Action on Coal Ash

Legislators from the NC House and NC Senate will soon start working on the final details of the coal ash bill.  We need you to write to legislators and let them know the final version of the bill must ensure that coal ash will no longer pollute our state’s waterways.

Every coal ash site in North Carolina is leaking. The only way to make sure all of North Carolina’s communities are protected from dangerous coal ash is for you to demand comprehensive action from legislators.

Click here to read more and to take action!

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Speak Up for Clean Water!

Right now, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is accepting public comment on a proposed set of water quality standards meant to keep North Carolina in compliance with the Clean Water Act and adopt EPA standards for metals.

Federal law requires states to review and update water quality standards every three years. North Carolina last did it in 2007. And while DENR has proposed a number of updates for the first time in 7 years, there are still some things missing that North Carolinians deserve.

Click here to read more and to take action today!

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Solar is Rising

Right now, North Carolina has the second most solar capacity in construction in the country. And this isn’t anything new.  For the past few years, our state has been a solar powerhouse, creating jobs and investment all across the state. However, the development that’s creating jobs and investment has been mostly limited to utility scale projects – large farms being clean energy online.

However, the NC Sierra Club is working to protect and expand policies that can make rooftop solar more practical.  Putting power on roofs is how NC can become first in solar. Find out more about our campaign and how you can stay in the loop at FirstinSolar.org.

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Wilderness Spotlight: Middle Prong

This month, we take a look at the Middle Prong Wilderness. This protected area was created by the 1984 Wilderness Act which celebrated its 30th anniversary in June.

Comprised of 7,900 acres in Western North Carolina, Middle Prong was once inhabited by the Cherokee and was settled by pioneers in the late 1700’s.  Find a full description of this wilderness area, including pictures and maps, at the most recent blog post on OurWildNC.org.

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Intern Spotlight

Every summer, the NC Sierra Club is lucky enough to have interns help tackle the tasks related to protecting our air, water, and natural places.  This year, we have two top notch interns helping on everything from legislative issues to wilderness and everything in between.

Please take a moment to learn about the great work being done by Brianna van Stekelenburg and Caroline Spence in their intern spotlight profiles and thank them for all that they do.

Click here to read about our 2014 summer interns.

Upcoming Events and Outings

Note: The deadline to participate in the Wilderness Challenge has been extended to July 31Click here for challenge details and to register!

August 22 – 24Outings Leader Training at Hanging Rock State Park

This training is for outings leaders who have taken Sierra Club OLT101 (basic outdoor leadership training) within the last 4 years.  This training will prepare participants to lead overnight trips away from cars (Sierra Club Level 2 outings).

Space is limited and the registration deadline is Wednesday August 6th.

Please contact Kelly Mieszkalski (kellymieszkalski@yahoo.com, 919.624.2225) or Nancy Card (nostalgicnan@gmail.com or 910.540.3088) with any questions.

Click here to register via Eventbrite!

August 2Tree ID Walk (summer edition) – Clemmons State Forest, Clayton, NC

Join the Capital Group for a summertime walk in the woods and tree identification outing. Hike consists of 0.6 miles on the talking tree trail and 0.8 miles on the talking rock trail. Guests may want to bring your bird or tree guidebook or a bottle of water. This is not a backcountry hike and no special skills or equipment are required. Outing is free and open to the public, limited to the first 12 to sign up at: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/tree-id-walk-tickets-12243363229

August 16Shining Rock Wilderness Day Hike – Near East Fork, NC

This hike is part of the Our Wild North Carolina Celebration!  This is a moderately strenuous 10-mile round trip hike that will cross Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain, and Flower Knob to Shining Rock and be at altitudes above 6,000 ft.  For more information, contact Joel Wooten at (336) 466-1314 before 9:00 pm, or joelhike@yahoo.com.  Wilderness outings are limited to 10 hikers. Click here more information.

Want to know the latest? Join us on Facebook or Twitter!

Did you know you can make a monthly gift to the NC Sierra Club? Find out how you can make a sustaining gift by visiting our website, or contacting the Chapter office at 919-833-8467.

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Sierra Club NC Chapter Legislative Update 07-11-14

Protect Enviro DemocracyDear Friends,

This week the General Assembly did not move any environmental bills forward that we have been monitoring because House and Senate leaders were busy hashing out the budget in contentious private meetings. That said, the coal ash bill and other bills we are following could move quickly next week as the legislature races to end the short session.

Status of the Coal Ash Bill

The coal ash bill - S 729 “Coal Ash Management Act of 2014” – was on the Senate calendar several days in a row this week, but was finally moved to Monday’s calendar for a vote of concurrence. Senator Apodaca (R – Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania), who is taking the lead on the coal ash bill in the Senate, has said that the Senate will vote not to concur on the bill because changes are needed. Specifically, he noted that he would like changes to:

1) the variance procedure added by the House that would allow the Secretary of DENR to grant an extension to deadlines in the bill;  and

2) the agency location and makeup of the Coal Ash Management Commission.

Procedurally, after the Senate votes to not concur – the coal ash bill will go to conference – which means that House and Senate leaders will appoint legislator conferees who will meet in private to iron out differences and come up with a final bill.

A major environmental concern remaining in regards to the coal ash bill is the lack of clear standards to ensure that all closure methods are protective of groundwater near coal ash sites. All 33 coal ash ponds at 14 coal plants in North Carolina are leaking toxic heavy metals into the groundwater.  Without clear guidelines, this bill could allow coal ash at 10 of these plant sites to stay in place, continuing to pollute our groundwater, lakes, and rivers.

Opportunity for Action:

Please contact Senator Apodaca, who will surely be on the coal ash bill conference committee, and ask him to add clear standards to the bill to ensure that any closure method allowed is protective of groundwater near coal ash sites.

What’s in the coal ash legislation that moves us forward? What is lacking?

Given the complexity of the coal ash bill – you may be interested in a broader picture of what the coal ash bill – S 729 – will do. Certain provisions in the House and Senate versions of the coal ash bill are not in contention and so will very likely be part of the final bill. These include the following provisions sought by the Sierra Club and its coalition partners:

  • Bring coal ash under the state’s current solid waste management laws:
    • The legislation makes wet coal ash subject to North Carolina’s fairly stringent construction, monitoring and siting standards for solid waste.
  • Address future management of wet ash:
    • The legislation requires wet coal ash disposal to be phased out entirely by the end of 2019. The coal ash bill will prohibit construction of new or the expansion of wet coal ash ponds beginning in August 2014. Then, by October 2014 no additional coal ash will be allowed to be disposed of in wet coal ash ponds at retired plants.
    • By the end of 2018 no stormwater may enter the coal ash ponds at retired plants and all active coal ash plants must convert to dry fly ash handling only. By the end of 2019, no stormwater may be discharged into coal ash ponds at active coal plants and active coal plants must convert to dry bottom ash handling only.
  • Set a timeline and fixed date to close out all 33 wet coal ash ponds
    • The legislation sets clear deadlines for closing out all 33 coal ash ponds. Four coal ash plant sites are identified for clean closure (excavation of ash and putting ash into lined storage. The remaining 10 sites would be categorized by the new Coal Ash Management Commission and put into either high, intermediate or low risk category based on a list of factors. High and intermediate categorization would require excavation of ash and putting ash into lined storage. Low risk sites would be allowed to be capped in place. [Note: Although groundwater monitoring and financial assurance would be required, the  closure standards for capping in place as currently in the bill do not adequately protect groundwater.]
  • Adequately regulate structural fill:
    • The legislation requires construction, siting and monitoring standards for large structural fill projects. Also, a one year moratorium on smaller structural fill projects is established while standards are studied by the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
  • Close the highest risk sites first:
    • Clean closure, with removal of coal ash, from the four sites listed in the legislation: Dan River – Eden, Riverbend – Charlotte, Sutton – Wilmington and Asheville.  [Note that these sites are all in litigation, and that Duke Energy has already publicly committed to cleaning them up.]
  • Removal of a loophole in 2013 legislation that allows Duke Energy to extend the compliance boundary by acquiring additional property, even if that property is on the other side of a drinking water supply lake.
  • More funding for DENR to regulate coal ash: though not part of the coal ash legislation, both chambers have included funding for 20+ new positions at DENR to implement the requirements in the coal ash bill.

What remains to be addressed or improved in the pending coal ash legislation?

  • Criteria for prioritizing wet coal ash ponds for closure that is tied to groundwater contamination.
  • Setting minimum standards, based on scientific data, for closure. Closure standards should allow alternatives to moving the ash from unlined ponds near water only if those alternatives are demonstrably as effective in protecting water supplies as removing the source of contamination.
  • Standards for using coal ash for structural fill for structural fill projects under 80,000 tons/project of 8,000 tons/acre.
  • A provision that appears to be an attempt to undermine a recent NC Superior Court decision by Judge Paul Ridgeway, that is currently under appeal. The Ridgeway court order requires Duke Energy to immediately remove the source of contamination from coal ash ponds that are polluting groundwater.
  • A politically appointed new commission with broad discretion and little accountability to work with DENR to implement the bill. The new commission can use cost as a reason to reject a proposed closure plan.
  • Open pit mines are included as an option within the definition of structural fill. Large structural fill projects including those in open pit mines (over 8,000 tons/acre or 80,000 tons/project) would have to comply with the standards for large structural fill projects in the bill (standards including liners, groundwater monitoring, etc…). Smaller structural fill (including open pit mine) projects would be subject to a 1 year moratorium during which DENR will study the issue. We do not know what, if any, standards will be developed for smaller structural fill projects including those that are open pit mines.
  • Variance provisions (in the House bill) would allow the Secretary of DENR to extend deadlines for closure of coal ash ponds. The Senate does not support this House change and so this may come out or change during conference.

Thank you for your volunteer lobbying efforts on this important issue!

Best,

Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations

Sierra Club – NC Chapter

cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org

These North Carolina Coal Ash Numbers Are a Powerful Call to Action

AP story

Thanks to Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch for this excellent article! I’ve taken the liberty to add in some mimes developed by the NC Conservation Network team that help to illustrate the dangers behind these numbers. Please share…

Monday Coal Ash Numbers

156—number of days since a massive coal ash spill commenced at an abandoned Duke Energy power plant near Eden and contaminated the Dan River with toxic coal ash

Approximately 39,000—amount of coal ash (in tons) that spilled into the river (Duke Energy revised estimate – original estimate placed the figure between 50,000 and 82,000 tons)

24 million—amount of wastewater (in gallons) that also spilled into the river (Ibid. – original estimate was 27 million gallons)

13—number of coal ash dams in North Carolina that have been determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pose a “high” (seven) or “significant” (six) hazard if they were to fail (www.southeastcoalash.org) – Failure of intermediate hazard dams is likely to result is significant property and environmental damage; failure of high hazard dams is likely result in loss of life as well

33—number of unlined coal ash pits that Duke Energy has at 14 sites throughout North Carolina (Associated Press: “NC House approves Duke coal ash cleanup bill” – July 3, 2014)

100—percentage of these sites that are currently leaching contaminants into surrounding soil and groundwater (“Unlined and Dangerous: Duke Energy’s 32 (sic) Coal Ash Ponds in North Carolina Pose a Threat to Groundwater” – www.nationalgeographic.com – March 5, 2014)

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19 or more—number of potentially dangerous chemicals commonly found in coal ash – including the heavy metals arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, as well as aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, boron, chlorine, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, thallium, vanadium, and zinc. (“Coal Ash: Hazardous to Human Health” – Physicians for Social Responsibility – www.psr.org)

As high as 1 in 50—chances you may get cancer as a result of coal ash pollution if you live near an unlined site and get your water from a well (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

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15—number of years that competing House and Senate plans would give Duke Energy to “close” all coal ash sites – Duke will be allowed to simply cover those deemed to be a “low risk” with dirt and leave them in place (Senate Bill 729)

10—number of years that would be allowed to close any sites determined (if any) to be “intermediate risks” by a new commission to be created by the legislation (Ibid.)

5—number of years that both plans would give Duke to close four specifically identified “high-risk” sites (and any others so labeled by the commission) and transfer ash into lined landfills (Ibid.)

10 out of 14—number of Duke sites that could end up simply being “capped in place” under Senate Bill 729 as it currently stands after approval by the House last week (Ibid.)

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0—of the 33 pits and 14 sites, the number that environmental experts and advocates have determined are safe to simply leave in place (Southern Environmental Law Center, NC Chapter of the Sierra Club, N.C. Conservation Network, Environment North Carolina, Appalachian Voices, the N.C. League of Conservation Voters and the Catawba, Cape Fear and French Broad Riverkeepers to name a few)

2.6 million—number of people left unprotected who rely on drinking water intakes downstream from ten leaking Duke Energy coal ash sites not required to be cleaned up under the bill (“NC coal ash bill leaves 2.6M unprotected from risks” – Southern Environmental Law Center – June 25, 2014)

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2.7 billion—Duke’s net 2013 profits in dollars (up $900 million over 2012) (Charlotte Observer: “Duke Energy turns profit of nearly $3B” – February 18, 2014)

-3.3—effective percentage of the federal income tax rate paid by Duke from 2008-12 on net profits of more than $9 billion during that period (that’s negative 3.3% - the company actually received a net rebate of $299 million) (“Profiles in corporate tax avoidance: Duke Energy,” NC Policy Watch and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy – April 10, 2013)

2-10 billion (or approximately 134 million to 667 million per year over 15 years)—estimated dollar cost of cleaning up Duke’s coal ash sites in North Carolina – depending upon the thoroughness of the clean-up (“Senate gives initial approval to coal ash plan” – WRAL.com, June 24, 2014)

0—amount of the cost of clean-up that both the Senate and House bills mandate be borne by Duke and its shareholders (Senate Bill 729 – www.ncleg.net)

Ratepayers Held by Duke to Pay

0—number of proposed amendments to require Duke to pay the cost of clean-up on which Senate and House members were allowed to vote (the Rules Committee chairmen in both chambers used parliamentary maneuvers to table the proposals before they could be brought to a vote)

10—number of registered lobbyists Duke Energy employs in North Carolina state government in 2014 (N.C. Secretary of State Lobbyist registration website)

1.6 million—amount in dollars of combined political contributions from Duke Energy to the campaign committees of Governor McCrory since 2008 and the outside political groups that helped his gubernatorial campaigns (“As Coal Ash Controversy Intensified, Duke Gave Another $437,000 to Help GOP Causes in 2013,” Democracy North Carolina, February 14, 2014)

28—number of years McCrory worked for Duke prior to his election in 2012

 

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156number of days since a massive coal ash spill commenced at an abandoned Duke Energy power plant near Eden and contaminated the Dan River with toxic coal ash

Approximately 39,000—amount of coal ash (in tons) that spilled into the river (Duke Energy revised estimate – original estimate placed the figure between 50,000 and 82,000 tons)

24 million—amount of wastewater (in gallons) that also spilled into the river (Ibid. – original estimate was 27 million gallons)

13number of coal ash dams in North Carolina that have been determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pose a “high” (seven) or “significant” (six) hazard if they were to fail (www.southeastcoalash.org) – Failure of intermediate hazard dams is likely to result is significant property and environmental damage; failure of high hazard dams is likely result in loss of life as well

33—number of unlined coal ash pits that Duke Energy has at 14 sites throughout North Carolina (Associated Press: “NC House approves Duke coal ash cleanup bill” – July 3, 2014)

100percentage of these sites that are currently leaching contaminants into surrounding soil and groundwater (“Unlined and Dangerous: Duke Energy’s 32 (sic) Coal Ash Ponds in North Carolina Pose a Threat to Groundwater” – www.nationalgeographic.com – March 5, 2014)

19 or more—number of potentially dangerous chemicals commonly found in coal ash – including the heavy metals arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, as well as aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, boron, chlorine, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, thallium, vanadium, and zinc. (“Coal Ash: Hazardous to Human Health” – Physicians for Social Responsibility – www.psr.org)

As high as 1 in 50chances you may get cancer as a result of coal ash pollution if you live near an unlined site and get your water from a well (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

15number of years that competing House and Senate plans would give Duke Energy to “close” all coal ash sites – Duke will be allowed to simply cover those deemed to be a “low risk” with dirt and leave them in place (Senate Bill 729)

10number of years that would be allowed to close any sites determined (if any) to be “intermediate risks” by a new commission to be created by the legislation (Ibid.)

5number of years that both plans would give Duke to close four specifically identified “high-risk” sites (and any others so labeled by the commission) and transfer ash into lined landfills (Ibid.)

10 out of 14number of Duke sites that could end up simply being “capped in place” under Senate Bill 729 as it currently stands after approval by the House last week (Ibid.)

0—of the 33 pits and 14 sites, the number that environmental experts and advocates have determined are safe to simply leave in place (Southern Environmental Law Center, NC Chapter of the Sierra Club, N.C. Conservation Network, Environment North Carolina, Appalachian Voices, the N.C. League of Conservation Voters and the Catawba, Cape Fear and French Broad Riverkeepers to name a few)

2.6 millionnumber of people left unprotected who rely on drinking water intakes downstream from ten leaking Duke Energy coal ash sites not required to be cleaned up under the bill (“NC coal ash bill leaves 2.6M unprotected from risks” – Southern Environmental Law Center – June 25, 2014)

2.7 billionDuke’s net 2013 profits in dollars (up $900 million over 2012) (Charlotte Observer: “Duke Energy turns profit of nearly $3B” – February 18, 2014)

-3.3—effective percentage of the federal income tax rate paid by Duke from 2008-12 on net profits of more than $9 billion during that period (that’s negative 3.3% - the company actually received a net rebate of $299 million) (“Profiles in corporate tax avoidance: Duke Energy,” NC Policy Watch and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy – April 10, 2013)

2-10 billion (or approximately 134 million to 667 million per year over 15 years)estimated dollar cost of cleaning up Duke’s coal ash sites in North Carolina – depending upon the thoroughness of the clean-up (“Senate gives initial approval to coal ash plan” – WRAL.com, June 24, 2014)

0—amount of the cost of clean-up that both the Senate and House bills mandate be borne by Duke and its shareholders (Senate Bill 729 – www.ncleg.net)

0number of proposed amendments to require Duke to pay the cost of clean-up on which Senate and House members were allowed to vote (the Rules Committee chairmen in both chambers used parliamentary maneuvers to table the proposals before they could be brought to a vote)

10—number of registered lobbyists Duke Energy employs in North Carolina state government in 2014 (N.C. Secretary of State Lobbyist registration website)

1.6 million—amount in dollars of combined political contributions from Duke Energy to the campaign committees of Governor McCrory since 2008 and the outside political groups that helped his gubernatorial campaigns (“As Coal Ash Controversy Intensified, Duke Gave Another $437,000 to Help GOP Causes in 2013,” Democracy North Carolina, February 14, 2014)

28—number of years McCrory worked for Duke prior to his election in 2012

- See more at: http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2014/07/07/monday-coal-ash-numbers/#sthash.f1HRM9AZ.dpuf

Sign the Petition: Amend the Constitution to get money out of politics

Sierra Club - Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

Support a constitutional amendment that would declare our independence from money in politics

Government by the People

Take Action

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
– July 4, 1776

With those words, Thomas Jefferson and the other drafters of the Declaration of Independence set an aspirational goal for our nation.

But the very foundations of the democracy they envisioned are under assault from big polluters and corporations who claim to be more equal than people, with special rights being granted to corporate “persons” to buy and sell our elections with their unlimited, undisclosed money.

Our Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon are destructive to the ends of protecting our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. When big polluters can shout down normal citizens with unlimited SuperPAC money, our clean air, water, and climate suffer.

But we can fight back.

Send a message to your senators asking them to support a new constitutional amendment that would overturn these decisions and let the peoples’ voices be heard again.

The proposed constitutional amendment, sponsored by environmental champion Senator Tom Udall,[1] would give Congress and the states the ability to regulate money in politics. With this, they can end the era of unlimited, undisclosed money from big polluters like the Koch brothers and Shaun McCutcheon.

While the amendment already has over 40 supporters in the Senate, it’s going to take grassroots pressure from people like you demanding they pass it.

Add your voice to thousands of others and declare our independence from money in politics.

Our government should respond to the voice of the people, not a few super-rich donors. When big polluters and their unlimited SuperPAC money speaks, they drown out the voices of the people who suffer because of dirty air, contaminated water, and a warming, unstable climate.

To make sure we can fulfill the aspirations our government was founded on, we must declare our independence from big polluter money. Tell your senators to support a constitutional amendment.

Thank you for everything you do for our environment and democracy,

Courtney Hight
Director, Democracy Program
Sierra Club

P.S. After you take action, can you help spread the word? Forward this email to your friends and family, or share the alert on Facebook and Twitter by clicking the buttons below:

 Share this petition on Facebook
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References

[1] Full text of SJR19, 113th Congress

Sierra Club – NC Legislative Update 07-03-14

Protect Enviro Democracy

Dear Friends,

The House passed the coal ash bill today - S 729 “Coal Ash Management Act of 2014” – which was spurred by the Dan River coal ash spill. You may recall that In February 2014, 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater laden with toxic heavy metals were discharged into the Dan River from a broken stormwater pipe beneath an unlined Duke Energy coal ash pit.

Coal ash has been virtually unregulated in the state, so the task of creating a regulatory framework to address both the 33 coal ash ponds in the state, but also the massive amount of dry ash generated by the Marshall plant in Catawba County, has been daunting.  Rep. McGrady (R – Henderson), Rep. Samuelson (R – Mecklenburg) and Rep. Hager (R – Burke, Rutherford) carried the bill on the House side. Sen. Apodaca (R- Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania) and Sen. Berger (R – Guilford, Rockingham) did so on the Senate side.

S 729 represents some significant strides in dealing with the coal ash problem in North Carolina, but it hasn’t gone far enough to address the continuing dangers many communities face from coal ash pollution.

A problem section was added by the House that appears to undermine ongoing citizen litigation to address groundwater contamination from coal ash ponds at multiple locations in North Carolina. Basically, the House bill rolls back current law, recently clarified in state Superior court, that gives DENR both the authority and the responsibility to require Duke Energy to immediately eliminate the source of groundwater pollution coming from its unlined coal ash pits. We will continue to ask the House and Senate to remove this provision before final passage of the bill.

The House bill also failed to remedy the Senate bill’s lack of clear standards to ensure that closure methods are protective of groundwater near coal ash sites. All 14 coal ash sites in the North Carolina are leaking toxic heavy metals into the groundwater.  Without clear guidelines, this bill could allow coal ash at 10 of these sites to stay in place, continuing to pollute our groundwater, lakes, and rivers.

While the bill is not as strong as we’d hope would come out of the House, some positive elements of the coal ash legislation include:

  • bringing coal ash under solid waste management laws;
  • phasing out the antiquated and dangerous wet coal ash disposal method;
  • setting a timeline, with fixed dates to close out all 33 wet coal ash ponds;
  • requiring removal of ash from ponds to dry, lined storage away from the water at 4 sites (but not necessarily at the other 10 sites – that’s left to be determined by new Coal Ash Commission);
  • setting minimum standards for landfill disposal of coal ash;
  • setting standards, requiring permitting and buffers for large structural fill projects; and
  • requiring a public process, public hearings, and public comment for coal ash site closure plans.

While some helpful amendments were added by House members, overall the House failed to significantly improve the bill from the Senate version. House members on both sides of the aisle pushed for a stronger bill but most were pleased, at the end of the day, to pass a bill that moves the state forward in a number of significant ways on coal ash. The final vote on the bill in the House was 94 -16.

Opportunity for Action:

Please thank House members who put forth positive amendments (listed below) to improve the bill. Some good amendments passed, others failed, and many were tabled (a procedural move to avoid a vote). Much like in the fracking bill debate, some of the most high-profile amendments were tabled instead of allowing a vote.

Passed:

  • Rep.Murry (R-Wake) – removed a requirement making capping in place mandatory for low-risk sites, expanded and improved closure options and added a study to incentivize the reuse of coal ash.
  • Rep.G. Martin (D-Wake) – added dam safety and security measures for dams at coal ash ponds.

Tabled (to avoid putting members on the record with a vote):

  • Reps.Goodman (D-Hoke, Montgomery, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland),Wilkins (D-Granville, Person),G. Graham (D-Craven, Greene, Lenoir) andWray (D-Halifax, Northampton) tried to add the coal ash plants in their districts (Belews Creek, Weatherspoon, Roxboro, Buck and Lee) to the high priority site list for clean closure.
  • Rep.Baskerville (D-Granville, Vance, Warren) offered an amendment that would have prohibited Duke Energy from transferring the cost of coal ash cleanup to ratepayers.
  • Rep.L. Hall (D-Durham) offered an amendment that would have eliminated the variance procedure (added in the House version of the bill), which allows DENR to give leeway to Duke Energy on coal ash cleanup deadlines.

Failed:

  • Rep.Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) offered an amendment in committee that called for a baseline mortality and morbidity study in areas around coal ash ponds to better gage the effects of coal ash on public health.
  • Rep.Stone (R-Harnett, Lee) offered an amendment that would have added the Cape Fear plant, in his district, to the list of high priority sites, which will get fully cleaned up and all coal ash removed within 5 years. Stone’s amendment passed with a 57-54 vote but then leadership scrambled to flip votes, pulled a procedural move to reconsider the vote, and a second vote was taken of 54-58.
  • Rep.Luebke (D-Durham) offered an amendment to require standards for smaller structural fill projects.
  • Rep.Hamilton (D-Brunswick, New Hanover) offered a good amendment that would have eliminated the possibility of disposing coal ash in open pit mines.
  • Rep.Meyer (D-Durham, Orange) offered an amendment that would have eliminated cost as one of the factors that the new Coal Ash Commission may consider when reviewing coal ash pond closure plans, thereby prioritizing environmental and public health considerations.
  • Rep.Fisher (D-Buncombe) offered an amendment to add a seat on the new Coal Ash Commission to a person who lives near a coal ash plant.
  • Rep.Harrison (D-Guilford) offered an amendment that would have deleted the very concerning section on compliance boundaries that appears to undermine ongoing groundwater contamination lawsuits by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club. This amendment highlighted the most notable difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Looking Ahead:

Next the bill will go to the Senate for a vote of concurrence, likely next week. It is expected that the Senate will vote not to concur and will appoint conferees.  The House will also appoint conferees.  A final bill will be negotiated by members appointed as conferees. (note: conference committees are not open processes).

And later this year, in December, the EPA is scheduled to come out with a federal rule to address coal ash cleanup. The challenges that North Carolina has faced in developing comprehensive coal ash legislation shows that a strong EPA rule is needed more than ever to set national standards for coal ash disposal.

Thank you for all your efforts to communicate with legislators about this issue.

Best,

Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations

Sierra Club – NC Chapter

cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org

Today at the legislature, Wednesday June 25, 2014, Coal Ash bill passes Senate

Protect Enviro DemocracyDear Friends,

The Senate cast a final vote today in support of S 729, the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014.  Some good amendments passed, including two by Senate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca, who repeatedly credited Sierra Club for our input.  A particularly important amendment was offered by Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) to limit the impact of a concession gained in the legislature last session by Duke Energy that amended the statute regulating sources of water pollution by extending the compliance boundary for groundwater quality standards all the way out to a facility’s property line, abandoning the previous 500-foot limit. Automatically placing a compliance boundary at a property line removes any obligation for polluters to address groundwater contamination until after it has contaminated neighboring property and could allow a polluter to buy up neighboring properties to expand the area in which they could legally pollute. Sen. Stein’s amendment removes the assumption that a compliance boundary is at the property boundary; a step in the right direction.

But our work is by no means over yet. Next the bill goes to the House. Of particular concern is that the House make changes to better protect communities near coal ash sites designated “low risk” that are not appropriate for capping in place because of the proximity of coal ash to the water table.  Please contact your House representative and ask them to ensure that the coal ash bill protects groundwater by requiring that ash be separate from the water table.

We will be back in touch with more on what you can do as this legislation heads into the final stretch, but for now, please know that your voices have been heard.

Thank you, Cassie

Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations
Sierra Club – NC Chapter
cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org

Special Report: Duke Energy Coal Ash Controversy

Thanks to WCNC and Stuart Watson for these two great investigations into the Duke Energy Coal ash controversy. The latest installment aired this past Sunday. Be sure to watch and learn. Then share your outrage with your local NC elected officials.

Duke Coal Ash Report WCNC June 2014

 

Part 2 – FlashPOINT: A deeper look into the coal ash controversy

June 22, 2014. In this week’s special edition of FlashPOINT, NBC Charlotte I-Team Investigator, Stuart Watson, takes a deeper look into the coal ash controversy.

Part 1 – WCNC NBC Charlotte Coal Ash FlashPoint Special

Mar 2, 2014. NBC Charlotte’s Stuart Watson takes you deep into the Duke Energy Coal Ash spill in this 30-minute FlashPOINT special.

A Powerful Show: “Freedom Summer” on PBS

Nancy and I watched this last night. Wow! Double Wow!!

This is a powerful and sobering reminder of the courage and sacrifice needed to create change in the civil rights movement. What lessons can we learn, what spark of passion and commitment can be gained to apply to our work to protect our environment and our democracy today? Watch this and be moved…

Set your DVR for WTVI on Wednesday, June 25th at 9pm!

During the summer of 1964, the nation’s eyes were riveted on Mississippi. Over 10 memorable weeks known as Freedom Summer, more than 700 student volunteers joined with organizers and local African Americans in an historic effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy in the nation’s most segregated state. Working together, they canvassed for voter registration, created Freedom Schools, and established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, with the goal of challenging the segregationist state Democratic Party at the national convention in Atlantic City. The campaign was marked by sustained and deadly violence, including the notorious murders of three civil rights workers, countless beatings, the burning of 35 churches and the bombing of 70 homes and Freedom Houses.