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Duke Energy Announces Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Will Take 2+ Years; Emails Show Collusion Between Regulators and NC Utility
Duke Energy, North Carolina's largest electric and gas supplier, announced Friday it would take the company more than two years to clean up February's massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with 60,000 tons of toxic sludge.
The cleanup is part of an effort that includes moving three leaky coal ash dumps away from waterways near Asheville, Charlotte and Danville, VA—a town located along the North Carolina border that uses the Dan River as a drinking water source, reports The Huffington Post.
Part of the plan calls for moving millions of tons of the toxic sludge to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Duke asked Charlotte officials on Thursday to examine plans for storing the ash in fully lined, covered areas versus the open, unlined pits that currently house the coal ash. Duke estimated the coal ash transfer would take about five years.
Duke President Lynn Good sent Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary John Skvarla a letter with details, but Skvarla and other state regulators said Duke's plans fall short and don't address cleaning up the company's nearly three dozen coal ash dumps that are scattered across the state.
“There are far too many questions left unanswered, and Duke Energy should provide the information we originally requested, including the estimated costs of cleanup, plans for the future and a detailed timeline,” said Skvarla.
However, despite the state's criticisms, both sides have now become embroiled in another scandal involving a lawsuit over the coal ash pits.
The New York Times reports:
Environmental regulators in North Carolina consulted Duke Energy last year before seeking to exclude citizen activists from talks to settle charges that the utility’s coal ash ponds had polluted the state’s groundwater, newly released email exchanges among the regulators indicated on Thursday.
Duke officials and the state later settled the charges by proposing a fine and a requirement that Duke study the potential for further pollution before offering solutions. That agreement collapsed in February after [the Dan River coal ash spill.]
Federal prosecutors have since opened a criminal investigation into the spill and the relationship between Duke and the state’s environmental bureaucracy. Critics charge that environmental regulation has been hobbled by political interference since Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, a former mayor of Charlotte and a Duke Energy employee for 29 years, took office last year.
The scandal stems from a North Carolina judge ruling last week that Duke Energy had to take immediate action to eliminate the source of groundwater pollution at all of the company’s coal ash dumps.
The ruling, made by Wake County Judge Paul Ridgeway, stems from legal action taken by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) in 2012, according to Waterkeeper Alliance.
The nonprofit advocacy organization asked the Environmental Management Commission to force Duke to take immediate corrective action when groundwater problems were discovered at the state’s 32 ash dumps.
Yet the commission ruled against the environmental group in December 2012, leading the law center to file an appeal.
While delivering his decision, Ridgeway called out state regulators, saying they had failed to properly apply the law.
The ruling clarifies North Carolina’s authority under the North Carolina groundwater protection law to require Duke to stop the ponds from further contaminating groundwater, before it tackles the long term challenge of cleaning up the groundwater it has already polluted.
Check out these three slideshows from the Duke Energy coal ash spill:
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.
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Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
- Is California heading for another drought? - Los Angeles Times ›
- CA wildfire season: Will rain, snow weather forecast end risk? | The ... ›
- California Fires Now Rage All Year as Drought Creates Tinderbox ... ›
- California weather stays dry as rain and snow come up short | The ... ›
- California Emerged From Drought and Is Still Catching Fire - The ... ›
A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?