NC Coal Ash Bill – Speak Your Mind to Your NC Elected Offical!

Call or send an email to your NC elected officials and let them know what you think of the bill. Do it today! (See contact information below)

Coal Ash Bill

Joint Press Statement on N.C. Coal Ash Bill S729 – S729 Fails to Protect People from Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution

S729 Fails to Protect People from Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The coal ash bill issued by a conference committee of the N.C. General Assembly today fails to require cleanup of 10 coal ash sites across North Carolina by allowing Duke Energy to leave its polluting coal ash in unlined, leaking pits at 10 of 14 sites. The bill leaves at risk people in nearby and downstream communities throughout North Carolina and other states. The bill seeks to weaken existing law and protect Duke Energy from taking responsibility for its coal ash waste.

Allowing coal ash to be left in unlined, leaking pits across North Carolina with documented groundwater contamination at each site is not a cleanup plan nor does it protect the people of North Carolina. Many sites across the country where coal ash has been covered up or “capped” in place continue to experience high levels of toxic pollution. Covering up coal ash and calling sites “closed” does not stop or clean up pollution.

All communities deserve to have water supplies protected from the toxic threat of coal ash by moving coal ash to dry, lined storage away from our waterways.

All of Duke Energy’s coal ash disposal sites pollute groundwater, and existing law in North Carolina requires “immediate action to eliminate the source of contamination” at these sites. Politicians inserted language into Senate Bill 729 that guts existing law and undermines citizens groups’ ongoing efforts to ensure real cleanup of these polluting sites under existing law.

As Duke Energy sought previously through its proposed sweetheart settlement deal with the state, the bill gives Duke Energy amnesty for its leaking coal ash dams. Rather than requiring Duke to fix its leaking dams, S 729 would let the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) shield Duke by authorizing uncontrolled discharges of contaminated wastewater into our rivers and lakes. Granting this responsibility to an agency with a history of putting the interests of Duke Energy over the public is a prescription for failure.

The legislature should require Duke Energy to clean up its leaking coal ash dams, and not allow DENR to paper over Duke Energy’s pollution.

Any bill written to weaken North Carolina’s protections against coal ash pollution is alarming given the recent disaster at Duke Energy’s Dan River facility and frequent promises from our elected representatives that this bill would protect citizens of North Carolina.

The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the following citizens groups in various court cases to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution across North Carolina: Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverwatch, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Dan River Basin Association, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Roanoke River Basin Association, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Yadkin Riverkeeper.

 

SACE Response – NC Lawmakers Come Up Short on Coal Ash

Unfortunately, the bill they passed actually undermines current groundwater protection laws, fails to clean up 10 of North Carolina’s dangerous and polluting coal ash impoundments and lets Duke off the hook for the harm their dumpsites are causing communities and waterways statewide. As a News & Observer recent Editorial aptly stated, Senate Bill 729 “proposes to solve the coal ash problem by declaring it not a problem. Or, at least not an urgent problem.”

At the very least, lawmakers could have codified a judge’s ruling earlier this year (a result of citizen suits enforcing the Clean Water Act) that clarified the requirement in current law that Duke immediately remove all sources of groundwater pollution (i.e., every single one of their coal ash dumpsites, all of which have been polluting groundwater for years). Instead, the new bill will leave much of the state’s coal ash right where it is, either dewatered or capped in place next to waterways where it can pollute in perpetuity–a plan that lawmakers are touting as comprehensive clean up.

 

Good editorial – NC Coal ash bill offers a weak remedy

But this something is not much better than nothing. Essentially, Senate Bill 729 proposes to solve the coal ash problem by declaring it not a problem. Or, at least not an urgent problem. Only four of Duke Energy’s 14 coal ash sites are designated for cleanup by 2019. What to do with the rest would depend on risk assessments by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and approval by a commission whose members would be appointed by the legislature and the governor.

Addressing the problem with a commission delays action. It also assures that the “solution” will be the product of lobbying and the legislature’s prevailing desire to side with business interests over the interests, and in this case the health, of state residents. We need look no further than the state’s Mining and Safety Commission’s pro-fracking approach to safety issues to know how this even more politicized coal ash commission would work.

The bill makes it obvious just how broken, to borrow the governor’s term, environmental regulation is in North Carolina. It requires that the Department of Environment and Natural resources to have its coal ash decisions approved by a commission. The House’s lead negotiator on the measure, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said the state’s environmental regulators can’t regulate coal ash directly because, “There’s ongoing criminal investigations right now.” A federal grand jury is investigating DENR’s actions related to coal ash.

Good response – Environmentalists slam new coal ash bill

Environmantalists noted that Duke already had said it planned to get rid of the ash at the four plants.

“The bill doesn’t explicitly require Duke to do anything it hasn’t already voluntarily committed to do or will soon be required by the federal government,” said D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“A far cry from the historic bill lawmakers have touted, this plan chooses just four communities out of 14 across the state to receive cleanup,” said Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “The others, our lawmakers have decided, will have to wait for a commission of political appointees to decide their fate.”

“This bill is a big gift to a multi-billion-dollar utility giant,” said Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper for the Asheville-based environmental group Western North Carolina Alliance. “Instead of strengthening and furthering protections from coal ash, this bill attempts to weaken cleanup requirements already in place.”

 

Another good response – Method used for closing coal ash ponds linked to problems

The legislation that cleared the General Assembly on Wednesday allows Duke Energy to close some of its coal ash pits using a method – known as cap-in-place – that has been linked with groundwater contamination at the company’s Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County, according to documents obtained by the Journal.

Conservation groups prefer that Duke excavate the coal ash at all 14 sites and put it in lined landfills. While Duke says that cap-in-place would be safe, conservationists say that pollutants in the coal ash left in capped ponds would eventually seep into groundwater and contaminate it – as has been documented by the Pine Hall landfill.

“This (legislation) leaves ongoing contamination in place – and that is a major policy shift for North Carolina,” said D.J. Gerken, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The legislation would also allow Duke to circumvent a Wake County Superior Court judge’s ruling that state law requires the immediate removal of sources of contamination, conservationists say.

 

Call or send an email to your NC elected officials and let them know what you think of the bill. Do it today!

Mecklenburg County Legislative Delegation

Kelly M. Alexander, Jr: Kelly.Alexander@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5778
William Brawley: Bill.Brawley@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5800
Rob Bryan: Rob.Bryan@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5607
Becky Carney: Becky.Carney@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5827
Tricia Ann Cotham: Tricia.Cotham@ncleg.net; (919) 715-0706
Carla D. Cunningham: Carla.Cunningham@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5807
Beverly M. Earle: Beverly.Earle@ncleg.net; (919) 715-2530
Charles Jeter: Charles.Jeter@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5654
Rodney W. Moore: Rodney.Moore@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5606
Ruth Samuelson: Ruth.Samuelson@ncleg.net; (919) 715-3009
Jacqueline Michelle Shaffer: Jacqueline.Shaffer@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5886
Thom Tillis: Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net; (919) 733-3451
Jeff Jackson, Jeff.Jackson@ncleg.net; (704) 942-0118
Joel D. M. Ford: Joel.Ford@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5955
Malcolm Graham: Malcolm.Graham@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5650
Bob Rucho: Bob.Rucho@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5655
Jeff Tarte: Jeff.Tarte@ncleg.net; (919) 715-3050

Mecklenburg County Representation (Website and district number)

House Members

Kelly M. Alexander, Jr. (District 107)
William Brawley (District 103)
Rob Bryan (District 88)
Becky Carney (District 102)
Tricia Ann Cotham (District 100)
Carla D. Cunningham (District 106)
Beverly M. Earle (District 101)
Charles Jeter (District 92)
Rodney W. Moore (District 99)
Ruth Samuelson (District 104)
Jacqueline Michelle Schaffer (District 105)
Thom Tillis (District 98)

Senate Members

Daniel G. Clodfelter (District 37) (RESIGNED 04/08/2014)
Joel D. M. Ford (District 38)
Malcolm Graham (District 40)
Jeff Jackson (District 37) (APPOINTED 05/06/2014)
Bob Rucho (District 39)
Jeff Tarte (District 41)

“What We Should Know About Our Water and What We Can Do About It” – Temple Beth El, Aug 22

Temple Beth El is holding their tenth annual Schloss Summer Lecture “What We Should Know About Our Water and What We Can Do About It,” with Reed Perkins, professor of environmental science at Queens University, and Ivan Cooper, national practice leader at Civil and Environmental Consultants. The program is free and the public is welcomed.

What We Should Know About Our Water and What We Can Do About It

Aug. 22nd at 7:45 PM

Temple Beth El

5101 Providence Road (in Shalom Park)

Friday, Aug 22 deadline: Submit comments on proposed NC water quality rules – Triennial Review

DENR-triennialreview2-244x300

Because heavy metals like selenium do this…

Coal Ash Fish Pollution Impact

Figure 5. Abnormal bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus, top) from Lake Sutton (second collection batch) showing multiple defects of the mouth (which is permanently distended and less than 20% of its normal size) and other craniofacial structures including “gaping” distorted, permanently deformed gill cover. Bottom individual is normal.

Submit comments on proposed water quality rules – Triennial Review

NC regulators must conduct a Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards as required by the Federal Clean Water Act this year. North Carolina has not adopted revised water quality rules in the previous Triennial cycle. NC DENR has now proposed revisions to water quality rules as required by the Clean Water Act, and public comments are accepted through August 22.

North Carolina is also the only state in the Southeast so far not to adopt the nationally recommended criteria for concentrations of heavy metals in our water. Heavy metals can occur naturally, but when introduced in mass amounts due to unchecked industrial waste, it affects our health and our environment.

Triennial Review Information

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to “hold public hearings for the purpose of reviewing applicable water quality standards and, as appropriate, modifying and adopting standards” at least once every three years. NC last held such a public hearing to update its water quality protections in July 2006. The current hearing is four years overdue. NC lags behind neighboring states in adopting standards that meet the National Recommended Water Quality Criteria and that incorporate the best available science. The EPA has the authority to promulgate regulations to protect NC’s water if NC does not do so itself. Clean water and a healthy environment are vitally important to all North Carolinians – for their health, property values, recreational and business opportunities, etc. NC should not weaken any standards, but should retain its current water quality standards and strengthen them as described below.
Click on one of the sections to find more information about each subject.

Public Comment Period:
2014-06-14 thru 2014-08-22

Submit Comments Electronically:
DWR-Classifications-Standards@ncdenr.gov

Mail Comments To:
DENR/Division of Water Resources/Water Planning Section,
1611 Mail Service Center,
Raleigh, NC 27699-1611

For more information, see http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/wq/rules

 

Water Quality Links and Lists:

This is where you can subscribe to the TMDL and Water Quality Assessment mailing list: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/wq/ps/mt/unitinfo#Mailing

DENR’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs lists events, activities, and workshops for all ages in a searchable database here: http://web.eenorthcarolina.org/core/event/calendar.aspx?show=list&s=0.0.108.37430.  Or, they can be viewed in a searchable calendar format here: http://web.eenorthcarolina.org/core/event/calendar.aspx.

The Stormwater Outreach and Education Listserv is frequently used to announce speaker events and workshops relevant to water quality. Here is a link to the subscription page: https://lists.ncmail.net/mailman/listinfo/stormwater.outreachandeducation.

Making Public Comments on North Carolina’s Proposed Fracking Rules

This Wednesday and Friday, next Monday, and Sept 12th there will be public hearing on proposed fracking rules for NC. Please try to make one of the hearings and speak out! Here’s some background information about the issues to help you prepare your comments. More information to follow.

Making Public Comments on North Carolina’s Proposed Fracking Rules

Public hearings on the state’s proposed fracking rules start on August 20.  Below is information about the meetings themselves, as well as, information that can help you create constructive comments.

The dates, times, and locations for the public hearings are as follows:

August 20, 2014 – Raleigh Public Hearing

NCSU- McKimmon Center, Raleigh, NC from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.

August 22, 2014 – Sanford Public Hearing

Wicker Civic Center, Sanford, NC from 5:00 to 9:00pm.

August 25, 2014 – Reidsville Public Hearing

Rockingham County High School, Reidsville, NC from 5:00 to 9:00pm.

September 12, 2014 – Cullowhee Public Hearing

Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center- WCU, Cullowhee, NC from 5:00 to 9:00 pm.

There are a wide range of issues related to fracking upon which you may wish to comment. Click on one of the topics below to get more information about that topic.  Feel free to use this information in your talking points.  And if you have any questions about the hearings or other ways you can contribute, please contact Zak Keith, lead organizer for the NC Sierra Club.

Topics related to the proposed fracking rules:

Air Quality

Long-Term Contamination

 

Water

Baseline Testing

Fracking Chemicals

Click here to visit NC DENR’s page where you can read the proposed rules and find more information related to the Mining & Energy Commission.

 

 

Air Quality

Toxic air emissions from fracking operations are a threat to public health and the environment, but the rules proposed by the Mining and Energy Commission fail to take the most basic actions needed to address air pollution. The MEC is authorized to regulate toxic air emissions from drilling operations.

Fracking operations will likely be a source of regional nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. More of these kind of emissions will make it more difficult for the Triangle area to comply with federal air quality standards. The MEC should limit these emissions from fracking operations.

Fracking operations will likely require many diesel truck trips. Diesel truck exhaust contains fine particles and air toxics including carcinogens 1,3-butadiene, acetaldehyde, acrolein, benzene and formaldehyde. The MEC should limit these emissions from fracking operations.

There is a federally approved (but not yet required) method of capturing and controlling some toxic air emissions from fracking wellheads – called ‘green completions’. The MEC should require all gas wells drilled in NC to have green completions under rules 5H .1308 (Permit Conditions) and 5H .1614 (Wellhead Requirements).

The MEC should require that fracking operators drilling near high occupancy buildings conduct continuous air quality monitoring to protect public health in Rule 5H .1308.

 

 

Long-Term Contamination

Fracking operations may cause soil and groundwater contamination over the long-term but yet the MEC proposed rules lack effective remedies for neighbors of fracking operations who may suffer these impacts. Fracking operations require storage and use of a variety of chemicals including brines, corrosive minerals and radioactive materials – which, if mismanaged, can cause long-lasting soil and water contamination.

The MEC proposed rules rely heavily on self-reporting of spills and violations and self-corrective actions by fracking operators in 5H .2005.  The MEC should require soil and water testing as a component of a reclamation plan under 5H .2102, with clear requirements for soil and groundwater remediation if contamination is found. The certainty of such testing is best deterrent to non-compliance with 5H .2005.

 

 

Water

Fracking generates huge volumes of wastewater that may contain chemicals, carcinogens and a variety of contaminants.  There is no safe way to dispose of this wastewater in North Carolina and the MEC proposed rules lack critical safeguards to protect public health and the environment from contaminated wastewater. A single fracking well can use up to 6 million gallons of water and much of this water eventually flows back out of the well as flowback wastewater.  The flowback water can get contaminated from chemicals added in for the fracking operations and may include naturally occurring contaminants from underground – like salts, heavy metals and sometimes radioactive materials. Further, NC does not have water quality standards for many fracking contaminants.

The MEC proposed rule 5H .2002 would mandate a state-approved waste disposal plan before fracking may begin. This plan could identify a waste disposal facility for fracking wastewater – but there is no requirement that the facility actually be permitted, built and running. The MEC should require that plans identify facilities that are actually up and running in Rule 15A NCAC 5H .2002(d)(6).

The MEC should disallow transportation of fracking wastewater to any facility that will discharge a contaminant listed by the federal government as a known or suspected carcinogen, teratogen, toxicant or endocrine disruptor. This change would strengthen Rule 15A NCAC 5H .2003(i).

The MEC should require that all wastewater be managed in a closed loop system.

Accidents happen and the MEC rules should be written to protect public health and the environment in the case of spills. The proposed rules do not require operators to submit contingency plans for spills associated with drilling operations. The MEC should require that fracking operations have a spill prevention and response plan for all reportable spills under Rule .2005 as a condition of any permit under .1304.

 

 

Baseline Testing

Fracking operations have the potential to contaminate surrounding soil and water. Baseline data is information collected ahead of time to be used to measure any future changes against. The MEC should require that fracking operators collect extensive baseline data on drinking water prior to drilling to be able to tell if that water is contaminated by fracking. Baseline testing should go along with monitoring requirements to ensure that the state and public can evaluate long-term  impacts of fracking.

NC law requires four samples in the two years following drilling. The MEC should extend the requirement for baseline testing from 2 years to 6 years after drilling.

NC law says that operators are responsible for paying for baseline testing but is unclear as to who is responsible for doing the baseline testing. Nonetheless, the proposed MEC rules say that if an owner does not conduct baseline testing, they waive the legal protections of presumptive liability (meaning that the operator is assumed to be liable for contamination within a certain area unless shown otherwise). The MEC should require that operators implement baseline testing programs utilizing third party labs.

 

 

Chemicals

Fluids used to frack generally contain many chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens. Over 750 chemicals are known to have been used in fracking. Not all chemicals used in fracking operations are required to be disclosed; some are allowed to be kept secret if they qualify as trade secrets.

The MEC should require fracking operators to disclose all chemicals used in fracking operations. At a minimum, the MEC should require disclosure of constituent chemicals and their chemical abstract numbers for all chemicals in drilling and fracking fluids. Further, the MEC should require that when a formula for a fracking fluid is a trade secret,that component chemicals still be disclosed and made public – to ensure protection of water quality.

Sierra Club NC Chapter Legislative Update 8-15-14

Protect Enviro Democracy

Hello Friends,

This week was our second “final” week of short session this summer. And it may not be the last.  As is often the case in the final days of a legislative session, mischief increases towards the end.  For example, a regulatory reform bill that had been considered dead last week returned to life last night and was passed today.

Regulatory Reform – a gift basket for polluting industry:
Conforming with tradition to pass bad environmental bills at the very end of session, the legislature today passed a regulatory reform bill full of giveaways to regulated industry at the expense of the environment. There were several regulatory reform bills in negotiation throughout the session, including S 734 and S 38. A conference report for S 734, which included many old and some new provisions, was made public last night – and passed today; it next goes to the Governor to be signed (unless he were to decide to veto it).

Among the provisions in S 734 that are problematic for the environment are the following:

A provision that would allow a speed limit waiver to be granted for special events in state parks and forests.  It would allow any person to petition DENR to waive the standard 25 mph speed limit in a state park or forest for a special event. According to reports, this speed limit statute is the only obstacle to the Division of State Parks, for the first time, issue a permit for exclusive use of the main attraction of a state park for private purposes (specifically, for auto races). This measure was sought by political backers of Gov McCrory. Opening the door to allowing our state parks to be used exclusively by private groups is a serious matter.  So serious, that if we are heading down that road, it should be properly discussed and debated, not put into a bill without explanation or public review.

Another provision of S 734 would weaken protection for wetlands. The provision would nearly eliminate protection for isolated wetlands in eastern NC by raising the acreage threshold for when a permit must be sought to an acreage higher than the size of most isolated wetlands. The threshold for when a developer must get a permit to impact isolated wetlands eastern NC is currently 1/3 acre. That doesn’t mean isolated wetlands cannot be built upon – just that a permit from the state is required to do so.  Builders’ efforts to avoid permitting requirements actually end up protecting lots of wetland habitat – this bill would remove some disincentive to building in these areas. The provision also would reduce mitigation requirements for impacts to isolated wetlands statewide. Overall this provision is a negative for water quality because isolated wetlands are important for flood control, groundwater recharge and habitat.

Additionally there are several provisions that would negatively impact water quality at the coast, one that would make challenges to CAMA permits less effective by eliminating a stay on development when a legitimate claim is filed and another that would create a new exemption from coastal stormwater rules, essentially creating a windfall for certain properties but having a negative overall effect on water quality.

Representatives Luebke (D – Durham) and Rep. Insko (D – Orange) spoke up against the bill today because of the bad environmental provisions.  A number of the provisions in the S 734 conference report that passed today were not in any prior version of the bill. Apparently, adding provisions in conference that were not in either bill is not acceptable when it comes to protecting groundwater for communities threatened by coal ash, but is fine when it means gutting environmental protections that have served North Carolinians well for decades.

Opportunity for Action:
Please thank Represenatives Luebke and Insko for sticking up for the environment by speaking up against S 734.  And please contact the Governor to ask for a veto of this bill.

Coal Ash Bill Update – Deja Vu?
Its been more than six months since Duke Energy’s facility in Eden spilled nearly 40,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. During this time legislators have promised the public a solution that will protect communities and prevent future disasters. The Sierra Club has advocated for a strong coal ash bill that would require clean up of coal ash at all 14 sites across the state and protect groundwater.

On Thursday the Senate again voted to not concur on the House version of the coal ash bill and re-appointed the same conferees as before (Senators Apodaca, Berger and Wade).  The Senate had previously taken these same steps but then reversed themselves in an apparent late night effort to pressure the House to agree to a coal ash bill without additional groundwater protections that the House demanded.  Since then, the House seems to have not given up on this demand – so the Senate reappointed the same conference committee – indicating that the coal ash bill is still being negotiated. It appears unlikely that that the coal ash bill will be resolved this month. It could possibly be addressed in a November session if the legislature chooses to return then – or in the 2015 long session.

The End?
On Thursday the Senate passed three adjournment resolutions to give the House options to choose from.  The House has not yet chosen an adjournment resolution – so the legislature is not in agreement as to when to adjourn. The House and Senate have scheduled sessions Monday afternoon, but House Speaker Tillis said that may change to Wednesday.

Thanks for your volunteer advocacy!


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

Duke Energy Coal Ash Numbers

The following is a re-post from a NC Policy Watch article on 8/4/2014 by Chris Fitzsimon.

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183—number of days since a massive coal ash spill at an abandoned Duke Energy power plant near Eden contaminated the Dan River with 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash and 24 million gallons of ash-contaminated wastewater (Appalachian Voices)

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 Coal Ash Ponds in North Carolina Pose a Threat to Groundwater” National Geographic, March 5, 2014)

100—number of days since Governor Pat McCrory proposed a “coal ash action plan” and called on legislative leaders to work with him to enact it (“Governor McCrory Outlines Comprehensive Coal Ash Action Plan,” Press Release, Office of the Governor, April 16, 2014)

88—number of days since Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said responding to the coal ash spill was one of the top priorities for the 2014 General Assembly session  (“Berger: Drilling, easing regulations, teacher pay on NC Legislature’s to-do list, News & Observer, May 14, 2014)

82—number of days since House Speaker Thom Tillis said coal ash legislation was a top priority for the 2014 General Assembly session (“Speaker sets legislative agenda for state House, WRAL-TV, May 14, 2014)

82—number of days since the 2014 session of the General Assembly session began (N.C. General Assembly)

2—number of days since the General Assembly concluded work in its summer session, with the House recessing until August 14 and the Senate returning November 17 (Ibid)

0—number of bills addressing the coals ash crisis passed by the General Assembly since lawmakers convened for the summer session May 14 (Ibid)

3—number of days since members of the Senate blamed House negotiators for failing to reach a final agreement on coal ash legislation (“N.C. legislature puts coal ash action on hold, Greensboro News & Record, August 2, 2014)

3—number of days since members of the House blamed Senate negotiators for failing to reach a final agreement on coal ash legislation (Ibid)

3—number of days since Governor Pat McCrory issued an executive order calling for cleanup plans at leaking coal ash ponds and surveys at area drinking wells (Ibid)

3—number of days since environmentalists pointed out that McCrory’s executive order merely restates authority state already has under existing law (Ibid)

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 (“Institute Index: Duke Energy coal ash spill latest in ongoing regulatory disaster,” Institute for Southern Studies)

Hand Image: Appalachian Voices

NC Sierra Club Legislative Report August 2, 2014

Protect Enviro Democracy

Dear Friends,

This was a rollercoaster of a week in the General Assembly as is often the case the last week of session.  The catch is, lawmakers plan to return in just a few weeks and again in November before really adjourning the 2013 “short” session. Although the House and Senate came to agreement on a budget, some major decisions are left on the table, including a coal ash bill and a Medicaid bill.

Update on the coal ash bill:

You may recall that the Senate voted to not concur on the coal ash bill (S729) after it was revised and passed by the House. Therefore, the following conferees were appointed to negotiate a final bill:

From the Senate: Senators Berger (R – Guilford, Rockingham), Wade (R – Guilford) and Apodaca (R – Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania)

From the House: Representatives McGrady (R – Henderson), Samuelson (R – Mecklenburg), Hager (R – Burke, Rutherford) and Glazier (D – Cumberland).

These conferees worked to negotiate the details of a final bill, but were unable to reach agreement. The Senate conferees plus Rep. Hager, a former Duke Energy employee, agreed on a Senate revision of the bill – the details of which are unknown. Separately, three House conferees came to agreement on a House revision of the bill. The House revision includes language to disallow capping in place if coal ash is proven to be in contact with the water table – to protect against groundwater contamination.  Coal ash is contaminating groundwater around all 33 coal ash ponds and, in some cases, nearby drinking water wells. One of the primary objectives of any coal ash legislation should be to put a stop to this. It appears that the Senate would not agree to the House water quality proposal, amongst others – and that is what resulted in an impasse.  Thursday night the Senate threatened to pass the House bill without any changes from the conference committee – but that would have meant not getting the changes championed by Senator Apodaca – including revision of the variance procedure and changing the placement of the new Coal Ash Management Commission away from DENR.  It appears that the Senate and House will continue to negotiate the coal ash bill; the adjournment resolution listed it as a bill that will be taken up in November session – but the resolution could be amended to allow for it to be considered in August.

Opportunity for Action:

Please thank Representatives McGrady, Samuelson and Glazier for pressing for stronger groundwater protections in the coal ash bill. And urge them to continue to strive for this in any coal ash legislation that is passed.

Legislation Passed in the Final(ish) Week of Session:

The budget – H 744

The Senate’s budget proposal had a number of concerning things in it related to fracking. For example – the Senate wished to allocate public funds for exploratory wells and for advertising North Carolina for fracking. The fracking funds were thankfully removed by the House and stayed out of the final budget.  And, although the Clean Water Management Trust Fund didn’t get the hoped-for amount of conservation funding, there was a new allocation to the Fund for $500,000 to go towards local projects to reduce stormwater pollution into some of the state’s most polluted lakes. Representative Tom Murry (R- Wake) and Senator Tamara Barringer (R- Wake) played key roles in creating this new funding stream that could help reduce pollution flowing into Jordan Lake, Falls Lake and other drinking water reservoirs that have nutrient overload problems. This is the kind of forward-looking measure that the legislature should look to instead of delaying clean up rules and leasing water mixers for Jordan Lake that cannot physically prevent pollution. The House had proposed $10 million for land conservation but the final budget instead includes only earmarks up to $3 million in for one particular park acquisition which is somewhat disappointing.  Please thank Representative Murry and Senator Barringer for their efforts to put some funding towards pollution prevention in a difficult  budget year.

A bill to replace riparian buffer rules with new industry-approved rules:

S 883 “Disapprove/Amend Buffer Rules” strikes a list of environmental rules created to protect water quality that were only recently adopted in favor of different rules that were developed by an industry stakeholder group. The existing buffer rules resulted from a lengthy stakeholder negotiation process in which environmental groups were involved while the proposed rules were created by a separate stakeholder group that did not include environmental groups. Overall this bill seems to be based on a flawed process and to benefit mitigation bankers at the expense of water quality. Governor McCrory immediately signed this bill into law.

A bill that will create a new exemption to public records law to shield agricultural operations:

H 366, the Farm Act, which passed today, contains a provision creating a new unnecessary exemption to state public records law. The bill says that complaints about agricultural operations will be kept secret unless and until DENR decides that there was a violation. This means that citizen complaints that alert DENR to environmental problems will not be able to be discovered by a public records request unless it turns out that the complaint led to a violation. Making unwarranted or frivolous complaints is already a crime – so there is no need to create special carve outs from public records laws which are meant to improve government transparency.

And Legislation that we wish was dead but may return in August or November:

A bill that would limit the ability of local governments to fund public transportation

H 1224 “Local Sales Tax for Education/Econ Dev Changes” stalled this week in the House. It would cap the total sales tax a county may levy at a rate that presents problems for Triangle communities that have plans to create a regional transit system. H 1224 passed the Senate but then rather than pass it, the House referred the bill to the House Rules Committee for further consideration (or perhaps to die).

Three regulatory reform bills that contain a variety of bad environmental provisions:

H 761, S 734 “ and S 38 are all so-called “regulatory reform” bills that contain a variety of changes and updates to laws, some innocuous and some provisions that when added up look like a polluter’s wishlist. Some of the sections Sierra Club opposed include: requiring removal of air quality monitors, making citizen environmental suits on air quality more difficult, reducing permitting requirements for building in coastal wetlands, and reducing protections for isolated wetlands. Nearly all of the undesirable environmental provisions were added into these bills by the Senate, but yet the Senate did not vote on them.  The adjournment resolution passed by the House identifies certain bills that may be addressed on August 14th – and these regulatory reform bills are on the list. We are hopeful that these bills do not go forward – or if they do – we hope that the worst environmental provisions do not stay in.

Thank you for taking action,

Best,

Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations

Sierra Club – NC Chapter

cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org