Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices, shows her hand covered with wet coal ash from the Dan River swirling in the background as state and federal environmental officials continued their investigations of a spill of coal ash into the river in Danville, Va., Feb. 5, 2014.
Photo by Gerry Broome/AP

A coal ash mess in North Carolina

Updated
We’ve been keeping a close eye on pollution problems in North Carolina, and as Rachel noted on the show last night, there have been quite a few important developments of late.
 
Consider, for example, this Associated Press report on Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) administration shielding Duke Energy – the governor’s former employer – from legal accountability.
Over the last year, environmental groups have tried three times to use the federal Clean Water Act to force Duke Energy to clear out leaky coal ash dumps like the one that ruptured last week, spewing enough toxic sludge into a North Carolina river to fill 73 Olympic-sized pools.
 
Each time, they say, their efforts have been stymied – by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
 
The state agency has blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the federal act to take enforcement action. After negotiating with Duke, the state proposed settlements where the nation’s largest electricity provider pays modest fines but is under no requirement to actually clean up its coal ash ponds.
Note, the McCrory administration last year cleared out North Carolina’s Environmental Management Board, replacing its members with the governor’s allies. As Rachel explained, this set the stage for a change in state policy that allowed Duke Energy to pollute larger areas around their coal ash pits without having to clean them up.
 
What’s more, as we discussed a few weeks ago, federal investigators have already issued subpoenas as part of a criminal probe of a Duke coal ash spill.
 
Wait, it gets worse.
 
Stories like these are also starting to generate national attention.
While poring over regulatory documents for Duke Energy coal ash ponds, environmentalists at the Waterkeeper Alliance grew suspicious of the way the giant utility was handling the toxic ash waste left over from burning coal.
 
They decided to send up a team in an aircraft to photograph Duke’s shuttered Cape Fear coal-burning power plant and ash ponds, tucked into piney woods in this tiny community in central North Carolina.
 
The photos revealed what the Waterkeeper Alliance says is evidence that Duke, the nation’s largest electric utility, is deliberately pumping toxic coal ash wastewater from the containment ponds into a canal that eventually feeds into the Cape Fear River, a source of drinking water for downstream cities.
 
In the photos, two portable pumps and hoses can be seen drawing water from a coal ash pond and dumping into the canal and into nearby woods. According to the environmental group, that is a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act and state laws.
If you’re not following development in North Carolina, it’s time to start.
 
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Environment, North Carolina and Pat McCrory

A coal ash mess in North Carolina

Updated