On Thursday, a federal district court required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue long-overdue protections against worst-case scenario spills of hazardous materials, like in the case of extreme storms, fires, or flooding. The decision approved a negotiated consent decree between the EPA and a coalition of community and environmental organizations, including NRDC, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA), and Clean Water Action.
"This is a victory for the millions of people who live in fear of experiencing catastrophic chemical spills in their own backyards," says Kaitlin Morrison, an NRDC attorney.
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Scars from large mining operations are permanently etched across the landscapes of the world. The environmental damage and human health hazards that these activities create may be both severe and irreversible.
Catastrophic Failures Renew Old Worries<p>Tailings dam failures range from the 1966 <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-150d11df-c541-44a9-9332-560a19828c47" target="_blank">Aberfan disaster</a> that buried a Welsh village to multiple spills over the past decade in <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/mine-tailings-dam-failures-major-cause-of-environmental-disasters-report/" target="_blank">Canada, China, Chile and the United States</a>. The <a href="https://www.icold-cigb.org/" target="_blank">International Commission on Large Dams</a>, a nongovernmental organization, warned in 2001 that the frequency and severity of tailings dam failures was <a href="http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/2891-TailingsDams.pdf" target="_blank">increasing globally</a>.</p><p>Two catastrophic and highly publicized failures at the <a href="https://www.mountpolleyreviewpanel.ca/" target="_blank">Mt. Polley dam in Canada</a> in 2014 and the <a href="https://theconversation.com/dam-collapse-at-brazilian-mine-exposes-grave-safety-problems-110666" target="_blank">Brumadinho dam in Brazil</a> in 2019 finally catalyzed a response. The <a href="https://www.icmm.com/" target="_blank">International Council on Mining and Metals</a>, the <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/" target="_blank">United Nations Environment Programme</a> and the independent organization <a href="https://www.unpri.org/" target="_blank">Principles for Responsible Investment</a> drafted a "global standard for the safe and secure <a href="https://globaltailingsreview.org/" target="_blank">management of mine tailings facilities</a>." The first public review of the standard was completed in December 2019, and its authors plan to finalize their recommendations by the end of March 2020.</p>
International Rivers at Risk<p>Today these decisions loom large in the Golden Triangle, home to the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers – three of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1111-9" target="_blank">longest undammed rivers in North America</a>. Salmon from these rivers have supported indigenous communities for millennia, generate <a href="https://www.mcdowellgroup.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/FINAL-Southeast-Alaska-Transboundary-Watershed-Economic-Impacts-10_10red.pdf" target="_blank">tens of millions of dollars in economic activity annually</a> and provide a dependable source of food for organisms ranging from insects to brown bears.</p><p>We calculate that 19% of the total drainage area of these three rivers is staked with mineral mining claims or leases. This includes 59% of the Unuk River watershed, along with the entire Iskut River corridor, the largest tributary to the Stikine River.</p><p>We have identified <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ipseXInQJTFPt1wtac431c9AEmDHJqb05qqRwFTOlNU/edit#gid=0" target="_blank">dozens of mines in exploratory or production phases</a>. Some industry representatives call these statistics irrelevant because only a small portion of the claims will convert to economically viable projects. But from our perspective, the fact that vast areas of these watersheds are included in initial explorations implies that few rivers in this region are safe from potential mining development.</p>
Accurately Assessing Risk<p>Rivers are the arteries of coastal Alaska and northwestern Canada, draining pristine snow and ice-covered mountains and pumping out cold, clean water to support fish, wildlife and people. Here and elsewhere, we believe that regulators should take a measured and cautious view of current and planned tailings facilities.</p><p>Dam failures are <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/environments4040075" target="_blank">increasing in frequency</a>, and often are so large that true cleanup or reclamation is not possible. Before more are built, we see a need for independent science to provide a means of honestly assessing the risk of storing mining waste.</p>
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Residential solar energy companies are helping more and more homeowners upgrade their properties to clean energy sources. Solar energy companies can equip you with the technology you need to harness the amazing power of the sun and reduce your need for fossil fuels. In this article, we'll review some of the most trustworthy providers and installers of solar power.
Our picks for the best solar companies
The first step in the process is researching some of the top companies in the solar industry. Here are the ones that stood out in our research.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How we chose the best solar energy companies
How did we determine which solar power companies to recommend?
To begin with, we took a deep dive into each company's offerings, assessing them for the following criteria:
- Range of services offered
- Pricing/affordability and financing options
- Extent of service area
- Solar panel efficiency
- Temperature coefficient (e.g., how much high temperatures affect efficiency)
Additionally, we weighed membership and certification by professional associations like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Affiliation with these groups is a good indicator that a solar energy company is reputable, and that their work is up to the highest standards within the industry.
The best solar energy companies
schmidt-z / Getty Images
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the best solar panel providers and installers in the industry.
If you're looking for a company that can walk you through the process of upgrading to solar power for an easy and convenient experience, look no further than to SunPower. The company offers:
- A "design studio" app, allowing you to safely and seamlessly design your own solar power system so that you can see a visual of what the finished product will look like once installed.
- Online calculators that make it easy for you to determine about how much electricity you will save once you upgrade to solar panels.
- Virtual consultations, allowing you to chat one-on-one with a solar power expert and to ask any questions you might have.
SunPower offers leading solar panels and energy storage technology to homeowners across dozens of states. And, they are also the preferred solar partner of many major businesses, including Walmart, FedEx, and Lowes.
Why buy: SunPower is a reliable solar energy company with an impressive tech portfolio and an extremely easy, intuitive process.
Upgrading to solar power can seem a little intimidating, but SunRun is out to bring simplicity. Their approach makes it extremely straightforward to select a custom solar energy plan for your household. Here's what to know about SunRun:
- They offer virtual consultations with solar energy experts, making it simple to explore your options and determine which solar set-up is right for your home energy needs.
- Each system they design is completely customized to address the customer's needs. SunRun doesn't do "one size fits all" solar equipment options.
- Their guarantee, the best in the industry, offers extraordinary peace of mind that your solar system will prove durable and reliable.
- SunRun also leads in terms of flexible financing options, making solar power accessible and affordable.
Why buy: With SunRun, the name of the game is customization. This is one of the best solar installation companies to turn to for solar power solutions that are truly made with you in mind.
You probably associate Tesla with their electric vehicles, but did you know that the company also produces high-efficiency solar panels? Depending on your needs and your budget, Tesla can hook you up with an array of solar panels or even a solar roof, making it easy to cut electricity costs and power your home via the sun's vital energy.
Some fast facts about choosing solar power from Tesla:
- They offer a price match guarantee and affordable financing options.
- Their advanced solar panel technology offers a low profile, a sleek style, and long-term durability.
- Home battery backups allow you to save solar power and then access it on demand, whenever you need it.
Why buy: Tesla offers sophisticated solar products for what the company claims is the lowest price of any national provider, which they back with a price-match guarantee. Plus, all of their solar panels come with a solid 25-year performance guarantee.
LG is another well-known tech company that is also a leader in solar energy. Some of their solar panels use a bifacial solar module that captures energy from two directions to increase their efficiency. While they are a solar panel manufacturer, they can also help you with the installation process by finding an LG Pro installer in your area.
- They offer an online "solar concierge" service that allows you to evaluate your home energy needs and to compare different options for going solar.
- LG offers a 25-year warranty, not only on their technology but also on the work their of their solar installers.
- They offer a range of solar panels and supporting products, and they supply you with plenty of information to make a fully informed choice.
Why buy: LG is a company that knows technological innovation. Their award-winning solar energy products are reliably efficient, well-priced, and designed for maximum efficiency.
Panasonic has one of the most impressive tech portfolios in the solar energy industry. Their products boast some of the highest conversion efficiency rates, along with the lowest degradation rates. And they back everything with a generous warranty.
Some additional reasons to choose Panasonic:
- They offer a range of solar panels to choose from. With Panasonic, you'll find that you have plenty of options.
- They also provide a lot of great online support and consumer education, ensuring you'll get the most out of your solar technology.
Why buy: Panasonic is a solar panel company with products that are tough to beat. Both their pricing and warranties are very appealing, and their HIT high-performance solar panels offer some of the best power conversion rates of any product.
Vivint is a company that offers a full spectrum of services, including solar power consultation, design, and installation. A few reasons why homeowners trust their solar power needs to the Vivint team:
- Everything Vivint does is customized. They tailor everything to fit your roof and to help you achieve your home energy goals.
- They make the entire process simple, handling all of the little details for you. This includes securing permits, filing the right paperwork, etc.
- They emphasize safety, using only the highest caliber of solar panels and backing everything with a world-class warranty.
Why buy: Vivint is noteworthy for their focus on customization, their commitment to safety, and their one-stop-shop solar power solutions. In addition to solar panel installation, they also offer other specialized technology, including solar-powered electric vehicle chargers.
Enphase is another company that stands out, both for their robust technology as well as for their commitment to customization. Their microinverter technology makes their solar system safer by reducing the likelihood of arc fault fires.
- They design their solar technology with safety in mind, including fire safeguards that other companies can't match.
- Their solar panels are built for durability and can hold up even through the most extreme kinds of weather.
- Enphase uses smart technology to update itself; all you need to do is connect it to your home Internet.
- They also have one of the best apps in the solar industry, making it simple to monitor your home energy use.
Why buy: Enphase is a company of innovators, and their solar portfolio has a lot to offer. Their system is also modular, meaning you can easily add more panels to your system as you need them.
This solar power provider has won recognition not just for their excellent technology, but also for their sincere commitment to sustainability and to ecological stewardship. And don't let the name throw you off: Though Canadian Solar is based in Canada, they provide solar power solutions in the U.S. and other countries.
Some additional facts about Canadian Solar:
- They offer a wide range of products, from energy converters to storage solutions.
- Their solar panels boast exceedingly high energy efficiency rates.
- Canadian Solar has won a number of awards for its first-class innovations, and one of their products even set a world record for conversion efficiency in 2020.
Why buy: This company has a proven track record of technological excellence, plus a real commitment to ecological stewardship. They also closely monitor their supply chain to ensure that no goods or materials used in their products come from prohibited forms of labor.
First Solar boasts an impressive track record of advocacy for solar power and for renewable energy sources. And, thankfully, they back their advocacy with some excellent solar technologies.
A few reasons to choose First Solar solar panels:
- Their technology offers an outstanding temperature coefficient, meaning they won't lose performance during high temperatures.
- Their solar cells are among the most reliable and most efficient in the clean energy sector.
- First Solar also offers a lot of post-purchase, post-installation help, as needed.
Why buy: First Solar is a great option for anyone who's serious about renewable energy, and who wants the best performance from their solar panels.
The biggest drawback to Go Solar is that, right now, their work is limited to just a few states. But if you happen to live in that part of the country, you're in luck. Go Solar's panels are uniquely calibrated to take advantage of the western region's abundant sunlight. Some additional reasons to pick Go Solar include:
- They offer free home solar assessments.
- They custom-design solar systems to meet the needs of your home.
- They have some of the most trusted installers in the solar power industry.
Why buy: For solar solutions that are tailored to the climate of the American West, definitely consider Go Solar. Plus, with their Give Solar International partnership, they give an equivalent solar panel system to a family in Uganda for each system sold.
How does a solar energy system work?
schmidt-z / Getty Images
As you explore the different options for embracing solar power, it may be helpful to have a baseline understanding of how solar energy systems actually function.
Generally speaking, solar energy systems involve solar panels installed on your roof. These panels absorb the sun's energy, storing it in what are known as photovoltaic cells. These cells convert the solar energy into direct current (DC) energy, then use an inverter to convert that DC energy into alternate current (AC) electricity. AC electricity is what you need to power all your home appliances.
It's important to note that, before you purchase solar panels, it's worthwhile to meet with a solar energy consultant who can tell you more about how many panels your home will require, and also to let you know how those panels should be ideally positioned on the roof.
One more note: If you're concerned about the affordability of solar power, it's important to remember that most solar energy companies provide a host of options, including flexible financing and solar lease options for a system rather than purchase it outright. As you talk with different solar energy companies, don't hesitate to inquire about these leasing and financing options.
Benefits of solar energy
Installing solar panels on your home can yield a number of benefits. Here are just a few examples.
One of the main reasons why homeowners choose to install solar cells is that it allows them to truly embrace clean energy sources. Rather than depend on fossil fuels and power plants, you can power your home with renewable energy that comes straight from the sun. This can be a highly effective way to minimize your environmental footprint.
Solar tax credits and rebates
There are a number of ways in which choosing renewable energy can save you money, starting with the fact that there are so many rebates and tax credits available. Essentially, both the federal government and many state governments want to encourage people to "go green" as much as possible, and they will make it worth your while by allowing you to claim these important tax incentives. Some utility companies also offer rebates that can help pay for the upfront costs of solar projects.
Lower electricity bills
Of course, embracing solar power will also help you save money by slashing your electricity bills. Most solar energy companies offer online calculators that allow you to see for yourself how much money you'll save over time, simply by changing to a renewable energy source. There is also an option called a power purchase agreement (PPA) that can allow you to host a solar or renewable energy system from a utility provider in exchange for lowered energy rates. If your solar panel system generates excess energy, the utility will then purchase that energy from you in the form of a net metering credit on your bill.
Make a smart choice about solar power
There are obviously a lot of perks to choosing solar energy for your home. And yet, it can also be a rather daunting process, simply because there are so many solar energy companies to choose from.
Using our guidelines and rankings, start doing your due diligence, seeking the solar power company that's right for you. Remember to look for a company that's well-regarded within the industry and get a consultation before you buy. Always be sure to ask some direct questions about the financing options that are available to you.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. His writing on natural health, nutrition, and supplements has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
TOXMAP, an interactive online map that used various sources to track toxic pollution across the U.S., disappeared from the internet earlier this month, alarming environmental advocates, according to The Hill.
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By Laura Sear and Leslie Steed (Arica, Chile)
Arica is a dusty, windswept port city in northern Chile. Tourists wander the city's long seafront under the shadow of a dramatic buff-colored cliff called El Morro. But the bracing sea air belies a toxic controversy that has bounced from court to court, from Chile to Sweden, in vain search of resolution.
Today, the waste is walled off but still exposed to the elements, just five minutes' walk from the nearest social housing.
The waste is now just outside the impoverished Cerro Chuno neighborhood of Arica, where most residents are migrants.
By Matt Smith
Lot by lot, backhoes and dump trucks are scraping and hauling away yards on the north side of Birmingham to remove soil laced with heavy metals and other industrial wastes—the legacy of this city's years as a steelmaking power.
Federal prosecutors say that effort also uncovered something else: a scheme to save polluters millions by putting the neighborhood's representative in Montgomery on their payroll.
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A smoggy view from the George Washington Bridge in 1973. Chester Higgins / US National Archives
By Bob Sussman
The system took shape in the 1960s and 70s as the public and politicians sounded the alarm about the environmental legacy of decades of uncontrolled industrialization. Faced with the threat of unsafe and polluted air, contaminated rivers and streams, hazardous chemicals in homes and products and toxic waste sites, Congress enacted an ambitious set of laws calling for far-reaching protections of public health and the environment. Support for these laws came from across the political spectrum and from presidents as diverse as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
A company with a history of failing to report hazardous material spills is set to expand its Central Valley, CA, toxic waste dump, to the dismay of low-income communities already plagued with concern over proximity to the operation.
A draft permit for the expansion of Chemical Waste Management’s Kettleman City toxic waste dump would expand the site by 50 percent, or 5 million cubic yards, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The toxic dump, considered the largest west of the Mississippi River, has been the subject of debate among local residents after it was fined in March for failing to report more than 70 toxic waste spills to California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)—a charge the company claims is irrelevant to its quest for expansion.
The toxic site borders what Greenaction describes as a low-income, predominantly Spanish-speaking community with a population of 1,500. According to the organization, those who have attempted to speak up against the expansion have been met by police-led intimidation at public hearings held only in English.
“The community is impacted by multiple sources of pollution, and threatened by new proposed polluting industries,” the organization said in a press release. “Existing pollution includes the Chemical Waste Management landfill, pesticides, drinking water contaminated with benzene and arsenic, massive diesel truck traffic on Highway 41 and Interstate 5, toxic contamination from oilfield operations, and a former PG&E site.”
At the same time Central Valley that residents are fighting the proposed Chemical Waste Management expansion, the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon, CA—nearly three hours north—is poised to reopen. The Exide plant, which was closed for alleged arsenic emissions and soil contamination, is also located in a predominantly low-income area.
“We’re considered a lot more disposable than people in communities like Napa or Beverly Hills,” Maricela Mares-Alatorre, who lives near the Kettleman City plant, told the LA Times.
Chemical Waste Management Expansion
In March, Chemical Waste Management was ordered to pay more than $300,000 in fines after it was discovered that it did not report 72 hazardous material spills over four years, according to the California DTSC.
The department said the spills occurred near a loading area and sampling facility. The spills included herbicides, lead-contaminated soil and other chemicals, according to a press release. Area residents point to these violations as potential causes of illness and fetal deformities.
“In 2007 and 2008, Greenaction and community groups discovered a large number of birth defects and infant deaths in Kettleman City,” Greenaction said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the birth defect and infant death problem continues, along with many miscarriages and several cases of childhood cancer.”
Under California law, the company was supposed to verbally notify the department of the spill within 24 hours of the incident. Written notice is supposed to be given within 10 days.
Chemical Waste Management failed to do this 72 times. The company claims it cleaned up all spills and considered them to be too small to report.
The fine was imposed after a negotiating process between the DTSC and the company. According to the LA Times, the plant is the only one of its kind in California allowed to store polychlorinated biphenyls, otherwise known as PCBs, a known carcinogen.
“Our job is to ensure that facilities operate in compliance with the hazardous waste control laws and to hold them accountable when they don’t,” Brian Johnson, the department’s deputy director of enforcement, said in a press release. “This is a significant fine that underscores our commitment and sends a clear message to communities that DTSC will protect violations of the hazardous waste control laws.”
Yet local residents see the $300,000 fine as little more than a slap on the wrist for the company, which is now poised to expand its facility by 50 percent.
“It’s an insult to the rule of law that will send a message to polluters that … it doesn’t matter how many times you violate the law, the state will protect you and not protect the people in communities,” Greenation Executive Director Bradley Angel told the LA Times.
The draft permit is expected to be approved in September.
Yet before that happens, area residents are making their voice known, urging the Environmental Protection Agency and the DTSC to deny the permit completely, citing “chronic violations by the company, the ongoing health crisis including birth defects, miscarriages and childhood cancer, and the racial discrimination in the permit process including denying Spanish-speakers equal opportunity to participate in the process and the use of police dogs and police intimidation in the public hearings.”
Meanwhile, in Vernon, Californians are fighting a similar battle.
In April, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control suspended the permit for the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant, which recycles roughly 40,000 batteries each day. The state agency cited faulty pipelines and soil and groundwater contamination.
“A recent report submitted to the department by Exide demonstrate that the facility is operating its underground storm sewer pipeline in violation of hazardous waste requirements and are causing releases to the environment,” the order for temporary suspension states. “A separate report submitted to the South Coast Air Quality Management District by Exide demonstrates that emissions from the facility operations pose a significant risk to the surrounding community.”
According to the DTSC, a report on March 5 indicated degraded and compromised underground pipelines, which were the sources of hazardous metals released into the soil and groundwater near the facility. According to the report, groundwater in the area was contaminated at a level exceeding regulations. In addition, the report indicates the facility’s furnace was emitting arsenic pollutants, impacting more than 100,000 people.
“The predominant contributor to both chronic and acute cancer risk and noncancer hazard is arsenic emissions from the facility, with the primary human organs that are harmed are the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, developmental system, respiratory system and skin,” the report states.
The suspension of the plant’s permit was seen as somewhat of a victory for those living in the area—until it was overridden.
Exide challenged the DTSC order, filing for an appeal hearing. Yet after it was determined that the process was not as efficient as the company would like, Exide took its matter to court, filing for bankruptcy protection.
According to California Public Radio, Judge Luis Lavin determined that Exide would be “irreparably harmed” by the slow hearing process, granting the company the right to once again begin operations. Lavin claimed that doing so would not put the public at risk. Clearly, this was a controversial move.
Lavin claims that Exide had proven its ability to reduce arsenic emission levels, doing so by 97 percent before the plant was set to close, according to the LA Times. Taking the issue a step in a different direction, the judge accused the DTSC of filing the suspension based on knee-jerk reactions.
“The department’s avalanche of conclusions, speculation and innuendo are not a substitute for evidence,” the judge wrote in his ruling, according to the Times.
The company will still be subject to an administrative hearing, tentatively scheduled for September—the same time residents of Central Valley will discover whether they need to brace for the expansion of a toxic dump in their own backyards.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
For decades all across America, coal-fired power plants have dumped tons of toxic pollutants into public rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters. On a toxicity-weighted scale, discharges from coal-fired power plants account for over one half of all toxic water pollution in the U.S. The pollutants dumped by coal-fired power plants are among the most toxic heavy metals listed by the U.S. Department of Health’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium.
The Sutton coal-fired power plant in Wilmington, NC, is a prime example of a coal-fired power plant with a long history of groundwater pollution, surface water contamination and government failure to prevent harm to public waterways.
Underneath the sand and pine trees that surround Sutton, an unseen plume of toxic heavy metals has migrated out of the unlined ash ponds into groundwater. Monitoring well data from the site show the ash ponds have caused numerous pollutants to exceed their respective standards, including:
- Arsenic at 34 times the standard
- Manganese at 47 times the standard
- Iron at 27 times the standard
- Boron at four times the standard
- Sulfate more than three times the standard
- Thallium at three times the standard
- Selenium at more than twice the standard
- Total Dissolved Solids at twice the standard
Unbeknownst to most of the people living in Wilmington, NC, this hidden toxic witches brew of contamination is flowing towards public water supplies that provide drinking water to the community of Flemington. These wells are operated by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and are located less than a mile from the leaking Sutton coal ash ponds.
Public water supply wells located less than a mile from the leaking Sutton coal ash ponds. Public records show that polluted groundwater is flowing towards these wells. For decades, neither the U.S. EPA nor the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources have required the utility to clean up of the groundwater contamination. Photo credit: Dot Griffith
Groundwater assessments prepared by Progress Energy and submitted to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have found that the contaminated groundwater flows in the direction of the Flemington community wells at a rate of between 109 to 339 feet per year. In 1994, DENR’s Division of Environmental Management Groundwater Section explained that the groundwater flow at the Sutton site is “substantially influenced by the pumping activities of the New Hanover Co. well field [i.e., the Flemington wells]” and that “[t]hese pumping activities may result in a groundwater flow pattern that moves from the lake and ash ponds toward the well field.”
Indeed, a recent report prepared by the North Carolina Division of Environmental Health, Public Water Supply Section for the water system served by the Flemington wells assigned their “Inherent Vulnerability Rating,” “Contaminant Rating” and “Susceptibility Rating” the highest risk rating and listed the Sutton facility numerous times as a “Potential Contaminant Source” for the wells. The report also confirms that many of the highly contaminated groundwater wells at Sutton are within the area that contributes groundwater to the Flemington wells.
This situation also raises an environmental justice issue. Achieving environmental justice involves identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of federal programs, policies and activities on minority and low-income populations. Here, failure to enforce provisions of the Clean Water Act, to the detriment of the low-income Flemington community, is an environmental justice concern.
The other huge problem caused by decades of untreated coal ash waste being dumped into Sutton Lake is the accumulation of selenium in fish. Decades of sampling reveals that selenium concentrations have increased dramatically over time, such that in recent years the selenium concentrations in the surface water reached levels that cause reproductive failure of fish and waterfowl and have far exceeded those levels in the lake sediments and in fish tissue itself. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) determined that the sediment and fish tissue concentrations represent a “High” hazard. Unsurprisingly, the most recent published assessment of the lake by WRC noted that largemouth bass in Sutton Lake were in poor condition, and that from 2008 to 2010, the abundance and size of the largemouth bass population declined by 50 percent.
Sutton Lake is an extremely popular fishing location. It is frequented both by sport fishermen and by subsistence fishermen, who catch fish that are eaten by themselves and their families. Despite the fact that untreated coal ash sluice water, coal pile runoff, chemical metal cleaning wastes and other wastewater is discharged directly into the public waters of Sutton Lake, the public is encouraged to fish there. As selenium levels rose in fish in recent years, the state of North Carolina could have informed the public that the fish in Sutton Lake are in poor health. But in actuality boat ramps and fishing piers were recently improved to provide even greater public access and allow more people to catch and eat the fish out of Sutton Lake.