Time to Hold Duke Energy Accountable for Dangerous Coal Ash Impoundments to Prevent Next Spill
North Carolina, home to more high-hazard coal ash impoundments than any other state, has been ground-zero for coal-ash issues for years … long before the lawsuits began to fly. That’s probably because the state’s largest city, Charlotte, is home to the nation’s largest energy producer and anti-coal-ash-regulation lobbyist, Duke Energy.
The city is also home to former Duke Energy employee and current state governor Pat McCrory as well as a drinking water reservoir with two unlined, high-hazard, leaking coal ash ponds that have been proven—as have the Dan River plant’s waste ponds—to be contaminating groundwater.
To suggest that the government and the company have been involved in an incestuous affair for nearly a century is putting it mildly, so it’s no surprise to me that the federal government is now investigating the state’s handling of Duke Energy’s latest coal ash spill into the Dan River, even as the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has backed away from a third deplorable settlement with the company over its coal-ash mess. What is amazing is that the agency is developing a coal ash “task force” to study the issue again in lieu of forcing the company to adhere to state and federal laws.
“It is sad and remarkable that DENR’s response to the Dan River spill is to form a committee,” says Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center which is involved in the coal ash lawsuits against the company. He also pointed out that the state has years of data on coal ash pollution and has testified under oath that the company’s pollution is illegal and a serious threat to the public and clean water.
The call for a task force comes a week after both the state of North Carolina and the city of Danville, VA, admittedly relied on Duke Energy’s “sketchy” post-spill reporting and water quality testing to soothe public fears over water pollution; those test results were from one of the company’s private labs.
The day DENR announced its task force, Duke Energy inspected a second pipe beneath its Dan River coal ash ponds. It took state inspectors two days to actually watch the video taken by the company of the interior of the pipe. The next day, Tracy Davis, director of the North Carolina Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, sent a letter to Duke Energy demanding that the company submit an action plan within 10 days detailing its plan to repair the failing pipe he cited as “leaking,” writing "water jets from pressurized infiltration (termed "gusher" in the video) were observed ..."
It wasn’t until 7:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day that DENR alerted the media, and thus the public, of the second failing pipe.
Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted at a public meeting on Feb. 11 that it is working with the company on a solution, not enforcing the state laws Duke Energy is violating or even the federal government’s laws—such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act which, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee who spoke at the same meeting, the company may also be violating.
The state’s newest delay tactics and calls for more time to study the problem are less than comforting; those coal ash impoundments have already been studied ad nauseum and found harmful to both human health and the environment. How much more evidence do we need to prove once and for all that Duke Energy is illegally and continually polluting North Carolina’s waterways?
For decades the state of North Carolina has shielded Duke Energy when it comes to coal ash pollution even as the company’s own reporting data has proven that its waste ponds—which can also include chemicals and raw sewage—have contaminated groundwater beneath many of its coal ash ponds in the state. The company’s ponds have also already endured a thorough assessment by the EPA in 2009 and DENR assessments that led to high-hazard ratings for many of the ponds. And still coal companies like Duke Energy are allowed to self-monitor groundwater monitoring wells—wells the industry promised the EPA it would install in 2000 via an agreement that left coal ash federally unregulated.
Guess when the groundwater wells at the coal ash ponds were sunk at the company’s Riverbend plant—the one that pollutes Charlotte’s drinking water all day every day? December 2008, the same month as the Tennessee Valley Authority’s devastating disaster made coal ash famous. More than five years later, that spill is still being cleaned up.
The state has also protected the company—not the people—from coal ash pollution issues by exempting, until 2010, the structures that hold the waste in its towering impoundments. Those earthen dams were exempt from the state’s Dam Safety Act of 1967 and regulated by the N.C. Utilities Commission, under the umbrella of the state Department of Commerce—not DENR, a beleaguered agency that has lost a significant number of staff members (some quite publicly) under McCrory’s administration, which altered the agency’s mission statement to focus on customer service.
This past summer, I asked DENR spokesperson Drew Elliot who the department’s customers are, he said, “regulated communities.” Then he added “environmentalists.” And then, after a long pause, he said, “and anyone else the agency touches.” Before that, he told me, “There was a big feeling in the business community that we had an adversarial relationship (with them). DENR was deemed the number one enemy of business and had a huge target on its back because of that.”
Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), who wrote the 2010 legislation that forced Duke Energy to install more groundwater monitoring wells, have third-parties inspect its dams every two years instead of every five and moved regulatory authority to DENR, described the North Carolina General Assembly as an “antagonistic environment for environmental regulations.”
That doesn’t leave much hope for the latest legislative promise, this time from state senator Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson), to force a cleanup.
The company did issue an apology promising to right the situation five days after the Dan River spill began, but if it really wants to convince citizens of North Carolina it’s the good neighbor it proclaims itself to be the company will stop all of this nonsense right now and clean up its mess before another more serious coal ash spill happens in a more populated place, like Charlotte.
The company set the precedence itself: In the 1950s, the coal ash ponds were installed in an effort to prevent air pollution, long before the Clean Air Act. Even now, the company is helping the city of Eden, NC, the site of its recent spill, by upgrading its water treatment facility because of pollution from its Belews Creek plant’s coal ash impoundments, which are also on the Dan River.
When Duke Energy spokeswoman Erin Culbert was asked if the company was helping the city of Eden without the prompting of regulation or legislation, she responded, “Yes. That’s correct.”
“The recent Dan River disaster demonstrates that immediate action is necessary,” Holleman says, pointing to South Carolina as an example, “where coal ash is being removed from dangerous, leaking coal ash lagoons.”
The “immediate action” of moving forward with clean-ups at every one of the company’s coal plants may be mired in politics and ineptitude at the state and federal level, but such a move is well within the purview of no-federal-tax paying, multi-billion-dollar corporation like Duke Energy and should be an ongoing demand from the company’s shareholders and customers.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
- 10 Wildfires Ignite Around Los Angeles in Unseasonable Wind and ... ›
- 550,000 Acres on Fire in Alaska in Latest Sign of the Climate Crisis ... ›
- Sonoma County Wildfire Spreads 7000 Acres in Less Than Five Hours ›
- What Should We Know About Wildfires in California - EcoWatch ›
- California's Rainless February Points to Dangerous Drought, Early ... ›
By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Human Activity Caused Latest European Heat Wave, Scientists Say ... ›
- Antarctica Experiences First Known Heat Wave - EcoWatch ›
- Intense Heat Wave Bakes Much of the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
- Wild-Caught Elephants Can Die Up to 7 Years Earlier - EcoWatch ›
- Thailand's captive elephants face starvation amid COVID-19 tourism ... ›
- Thai Tourist Park Sets Captive Elephants Free to Focus On ... ›
- Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism ›
- Captive Elephants in Thailand May Starve as Tourist Camps Close ... ›
- The Complicated Business of Saving Elephant Tourism: A Skift ... ›
One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
- Amazon Deforestation Is Causing 20% of Forests to Release More ... ›
- World's Oceans Warming 40% Faster Than Previously Thought ... ›
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
<div id="7a571" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aad9dcf60e7385e6553ff23ffc1ae75d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293527664389693447" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Deaths hit a record in Florida yesterday. This guy's jail system is rife with COVID. And he's banned masks in his s… https://t.co/Cbp2wR32o1</div> — Michael McAuliff (@Michael McAuliff)<a href="https://twitter.com/mmcauliff/statuses/1293527664389693447">1597236002.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Beaches Reopen Before Memorial Day, but Is It Safe to Go ... ›
- Crowds Gather Over Memorial Day Weekend Despite Pleas From ... ›