Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Danville packs EPA meeting on Duke coal

BREDLians in Danville re: Duke coal ash spill @[100002702775002:2048:Kate Dunnagan] @[1159092872:2048:Beverly Berry Kerr]
BREDLians in Danville re: Duke coal ash spill

Danville packs EPA meeting on Duke coal

By Bruce Henderson


DANVILLE, Va. The people of the River City, for the second time in five days, packed the 1920s City Council chambers Tuesday to learn what they could about the health of their city’s lifeblood.

The Environmental Protection Agency convened the meeting to brief Danville residents on water-sampling results and the cleanup of Duke Energy’s Feb. 2 ash spill. The city of 43,000 has the first water intake downstream, about 20 river miles, of the spill.

The river cuts a wide swath through the heart of Danville. It’s lined by old tobacco warehouses and textile plants, many of them empty or repurposed.

“It’s terrible. It could have been avoided and should have been avoided,” said James Buckner, 35, a pawn shop owner who’s lived in the city all his life.

Buckner likes to take his son fishing in the river – grills are set up at riverside trails so people can eat their catch on the spot. That’s not likely now, he said. Gone too is the effort the city has put into promoting Danville as a water recreation spot.

“They tap-danced all over that,” he said of Duke. He wants the utility to “clean it up, fix it. They promise they’re going to fix it, and a lot less talk and more action is what I’d like to see.”

The Dan was a listless gray two days after the spill. Tuesday it was a murky brown.

EPA is at the center of a knot of government agencies at Duke Energy’s Dan River plant, where the spill occurred. They include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Carolina and Virginia environmental and wildlife agencies. A Duke representative attended the meeting but did not speak.

The water is safe to drink and to swim in, said Myles Bartos, one of two EPA on-site coordinators.

Results of water samples from the different government agencies have been consistent, he said. As river levels recede, he told residents, they should expect to see a bathtub ring of ash on the Dan’s banks.

Bartos paused during his discussion to take a sip of water.

“It’s from Danville,” he said to chuckles. “This is not a circus trick.”

Because the answers are unknown or out of the jurisdiction of the EPA officials, many questions went unanswered.

• Why not make Duke remove the ash from the now-drained pond at its Dan River plant?
• Why weren’t warning signs posted around the spill?
• Who will pay for sampling fish tissue for accumulating toxic metals? North Carolina and Virginia are forming plans now.

The EPA and Duke jointly control the spill site, said EPA on-site coordinator Kevin Eichinger – but “we’re the 51 percent of the decision ... we’re going to take oversight of the (damage) assessment and of the cleanup.”

Duke last weekend finally stopped leaks from the broken stormwater pipe that funneled ash into the Dan. Next steps are continuing to monitor the river water and its sediments for potentially toxic metals found in ash – and then cleaning up the mess.

The company has hired a third-party engineering company to make a more accurate estimate of how much ash reached the river – Duke has estimated 50,000 to 82,000 tons – and how much leaked out after the initial release, Eichinger said.

Angie Lawson, who lives just across the N.C. line, said her husband had photographed dead turtles Tuesday lying “all over the place” on the banks of the Dan.

“If it’s affecting fish and wildlife, how can it not be affecting us?” she asked.

Sara Ward, a Fish and Wildlife ecologist, said no dead fish or other wildlife had been spotted by government biologists.

“But the absence of biological impacts does not mean they are not occurring,” Ward said.
Lawson left the meeting with doubts.

Danville City Manager Joe King said it’s too early to know what compensation the city might want from Duke.

“We haven’t assessed the damages, and until we do I don’t think it’s appropriate to guess what they’ll be,” he said. “We certainly take Duke at their word that they’ll do what it takes to make it right.
“As long as there is any question about the health and safety of the ecology of the river, we’ll be concerned.”
Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender

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Enviros offer $5K reward for info on NC coal ash spill leading to charges

An aerial view of the Danville, Va. water treatment plant taken on Feb. 6 shows grayish coal ash accumulating near the intake. Officials say the water remains safe to drink following treatment. (Photo by Rick Dove of the Waterkeeper Alliance.) 
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Blasting state regulators for their mishandling of Duke Energy's massive coal ash spill into the Dan River, two environmental advocacy groups are offering up to $5,000 to anyone who can provide them with information leading to civil or criminal charges related to the spill.

The reward is being offered by the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Yadkin Riverkeeper. The clean water advocacy groups have criticized North Carolina regulators for delays in giving the public information about the spill, which released somewhere between 100 million and 164 million pounds of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the river, and for claiming arsenic levels in the water were safe when its own data showed otherwise.

The Dan provides drinking water for downstream communities in Virginia; those supplies reportedly remain safe following treatment.

"The fact it took more than five days for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to release complete water test results for heavy metals is inexcusable," said Yadkin Riverkeeper Executive Director Dean Naujoks. "They were aware of the spill and collected samples long before we did.

Their failure to provide accurate, timely information to the public about the high levels of heavy metals contaminating the Dan River for days is extremely irresponsible."

Anyone who can provide new information about the spill that leads to criminal and/or civil charges is asked to send evidence to Waterkeeper Alliance said it will evaluate the evidence submitted and provide the reward of up to $5,000, "as it sees fit."

On Sunday, Feb. 9, N.C. DENR issued a statement clarifying its reporting on arsenic levels last week.

On Thursday, the agency reported that arsenic levels for all sampling locations were within state standards. But in fact, testing of water samples collected downstream of the spill found total arsenic levels in two samples exceeded state standards for human health, which is 10 micrograms per liter.
Tom Reeder, director of the state Division of Water Resources, said state regulators "made an honest mistake while interpreting the results." He said they initially compared the test results to the standard for safe exposure for aquatic life rather than the stricter one for human health.

DENR is recommending that the public avoid prolonged contact with the Dan River in the area of the spill until further notice.

Meanwhile, lab tests on samples of water from the Dan River collected by the Waterkeeper Alliance immediately downstream of the spill found much higher levels of toxic metals than the state did, with arsenic 30 times higher than background levels and almost 35 times greater than the standard the Environmental Protection Agency considers acceptable in drinking water.

Arsenic is a potent toxin that can cause cancer and that has been associated with developmental problems, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes.

The clean water groups criticized state regulators' actions for breeding "widespread mistrust" among the public. Contributing to the atmosphere of mistrust is the fact that Gov. Pat McCrory (R) formerly worked for Duke Energy for 28 years and continues to hold a significant amount of stock in the company, though he has refused to disclose exactly how much.

In addition, after environmental groups brought a citizen lawsuit against Duke Energy last year under the federal Clean Water Act to force the company to clean up its coal ash pits across North Carolina, all of which are leaking pollution to the environment, the McCrory administration intervened at the last minute and negotiated a settlement that amounted to a monetary slap on the wrist for Duke and that did not require the company to clean up the ash pits. Democracy North Carolina, a campaign finance watchdog group, called it a "remarkable sweetheart deal anchored with $1 million in campaign contributions." Duke Energy's profit in the third quarter of 2013 alone was $1 billion.

Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. pointed out that Duke Energy could have avoided the disaster on the Dan if it had heeded warnings about the risks of such storage and cleaned up its toxic ash pits. Environmentalists want the ash moved into dry storage in lined landfills, where it won't pose such a severe water pollution threat. However, Duke Energy and other politically powerful coal-burning utilities have lobbied to block federal rules requiring that.

"Environmental crime is not a victimless crime," Kennedy said. "The poisoning of the Dan River is an act of theft at the very least. North Carolina's constitution provides that the people of North Carolina own the waterway but Duke Energy has now illegally privatized it."

Duke plans to dredge river as coal ash deal dumped

The Associated Press | Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 6:55 pm 
RALEIGH, N.C. - Duke Energy said Tuesday it plans to begin dredging coal ash out of a North Carolina river as the state's environmental agency moved to scuttle a previously proposed settlement with the company over pollution leaking from waste dumps at its power plants.

Lawyers for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources asked a judge late Monday to disregard its own proposed settlement with the nation's largest electricity provider. Under the deal, Duke would have paid fines of $99,111 for pollution that leaked from two coal dumps like the one that ruptured Feb. 2, spewing out enough toxic sludge into the Dan River to fill 73 Olympic-sized pools. The deal proposed over the summer covered plants near Asheville and Charlotte, while this month's spill was near the town of Eden.

The state dumped the settlement one day after a story by The Associated Press in which environmentalists criticized the arrangement as a sweetheart deal aimed at shielding Duke from far more expensive penalties the $50 billion company might face under the federal Clean Water Act.
The settlement would have required Duke to study how to stop the contamination, but included no requirement to clean up the dumps near Asheville and Charlotte.

Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday a new task force would be created at the environmental agency within the month to assess all 31 of Duke's coal ash dumps in the state.

"We need a comprehensive plan to address the future of coal ash in North Carolina and we need to make sure we have all available resources to respond to this situation, including the knowledge we have gained during our environmental assessment and investigation into the spill of the coal ash into the Dan River," said McCrory, a Republican who worked at Duke Energy for 28 years.

Influential GOP lawmakers also called Tuesday for legislation requiring Duke to move its coal ash dumps away from rivers and lakes.

On the afternoon of Feb. 2, a security guard at Duke's Dan River Steam Station discovered that a pipe running under a 27-acre toxic waste pond had collapsed. The company reports that up to 82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water drained out, turning the river gray and cloudy for miles. The accident ranks as the third-largest such coal ash spill in the nation's history.

The public was not told about the breach until the following day and initial reports provided by Duke and DENR did not make the disaster's scale clear. It took six days for the company to seal the pipe.
State regulators initially said testing showed levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants in the river were safe for fish and humans. On Sunday, however, the state officials admitted they had made an "honest mistake while interpreting the results" and warned people to avoid prolonged contact with the water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new test results Tuesday showing elevated levels for lead and copper in samples collected from the Dan River last week.

Federal officials were hosting a community briefing Tuesday night in Danville, Va., a city of nearly 43,000 people about 20 miles downstream of the spill site. The agency's tests show the toxins detected in the river are successfully being filtered from the city's drinking water.

Duke plans to start cleaning out a small section of the Dan adjacent to its waste dump, where the ash accumulation on the bottom is believed to be the thickest.

"We're going to use big vacuum hoses and a vacuum truck to pull that ash out," said Paige Sheehan, a company spokeswoman. "It will help us better inform our long-term plan and test out a particular technique to see if it's effective. It's a long-term process."

Duke Energy, which issued an apology over the weekend, said that as of late Tuesday afternoon it was staging equipment by the river and hadn't begun dredging.

AP reported Sunday that environmental groups have tried three times in the past year to sue under the Clean Water Act to force Duke to clear out leaky coal ash dumps.

The groups sued after North Carolina regulators failed to act on evidence conservationists gathered of groundwater contamination.

Each time, the state agency blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the act to take enforcement action in state court. After negotiating with the company, the state proposed settlements that environmentalists regarded as highly favorable to the company.

Clean water advocates have long complained that state regulators are too cozy with the polluters they regulate. But they say the relationship appears to have grown closer since McCrory's inauguration in January 2013.

On a state ethics form, McCrory indicated that his investment portfolio includes holdings of Duke stock valued in excess of $10,000, though he is not obligated to disclose the specific amount.

Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, worried that Monday's about-face might be just another tactic by the state to help Duke avoid paying for the harm it has done to the North Carolina's rivers and lakes.

"They are reacting to the public heat," Holleman said. "The spill at Dan River has shown that the entire path they have taken - not enforcing the law effectively as to coal ash - is a political embarrassment and a disaster for clean water in North Carolina. They are scrambling to figure out what to do without losing face."

State to create coal ash task force

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    A trench box is placed inside the ash basin to ensure a safe environment while performing excavation work and sealing the pipe.
  • Gerry Broome - AP Photo
    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., Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. Duke Energy estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash has been released from a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant in Eden N.C. on Sunday.
    Gerry Broome - AP
    In this Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 photo, Jenny Edwards, program manager for Rockingham County with the Dan River Basin Association, scoops coal ash from the banks of the river as state and federal environmental officials continued their investigations of a spill in Eden, N.C. Duke Energy estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash has been released from a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
    Gerry Broome - AP Photo
    In this Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 photo, Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices dips her hand into the Dan River in Danville, Va. as signs of coal ash appear in the river. Duke Energy estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash has been released from a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant in Eden N.C. 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. Each time, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has effectively halted the lawsuit by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority to take enforcement action. In two cases, the state has proposed modest fines but no requirement that the nation’s largest electricity provider actually clean up the coal ash ponds. The third case is pending.
  • Gerry Broome - AP Photo
    In this Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 photo, signs of coal ash swirl in the water in the Dan River in Danville, Va. Duke Energy estimates that up to 82,000 tons of coal ash has been released from a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant in Eden N.C.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. Each time, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has effectively halted the lawsuit by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority to take enforcement action. In two cases, the state has proposed modest fines but no requirement that the nation’s largest electricity provider actually clean up the coal ash ponds. The third case is pending.

North Carolina’s environmental agency said Tuesday that it will create a task force to review coal ash ponds in the aftermath of last week’s spill by Duke Energy on the Dan River.
The announcement came a day after the agency asked a judge to delay consideration of a settlement between the state and Duke over ash contamination at the Riverbend power plant, west of Charlotte, and its Asheville plant.
John Skvarla, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary, said his department will use “all available resources, including the knowledge we have gained during our environmental assessment and investigation into the spill of coal ash into the Dan River,” to prevent another spill.
A broken pipe at Duke’s retired Dan River plant dumped up to 82,000 tons of ash into the river Feb. 2.
The new task force will include experts in water resources, dam safety and solid waste management, the department said. It will be separate from the state’s investigation of the Dan River spill.
Environmental advocates say the department has previously refused to act on a wealth of information about the ash ponds at 14 Duke power plants in North Carolina. The data include annual dam inspections, ongoing groundwater tests, and reporting of contaminants in water drained from the ash ponds to lakes and rivers.
The state’s request to delay a proposed court settlement “is a sad commentary on the failure of DENR to protect the public and North Carolina’s clean water after saying under oath that Duke was violating the law,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The center represents four environmental groups, including the Charlotte-based Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, that have become parties to the state lawsuits over the Riverbend and Asheville plants. The groups say Duke should remove the ash from open ponds, which are typically close to waterways and drinking-water supplies such as Charlotte’s Mountain Island Lake.
DENR spokesman Drew Elliot said the state deserves credit for suing Duke last year. The lawsuits, eventually aimed at ash ponds at all 14 coal-fired plants in North Carolina, said ash contamination threatens the public and the environment. Groundwater has been contaminated at each plant.
“Those facilities have been there for 50 to 60 years,” Elliot said. “Secretary Skvarla came into office in January of last year and took action within 90 days.”
The state filed the lawsuits only after environmental groups filed required advance notice that they intended to sue Duke on their own.
Duke and the state reached a proposed settlement regarding the Riverbend and Asheville plants. The agreement called for Duke to pay a $99,000 fine for water-quality violations at the plant and to assess the extent of groundwater contamination.
The state asked for public comments on the deal. Nearly 5,000 came in, virtually all opposing the agreement as too lenient. The state and Duke then modified the agreement in October to set firmer deadlines for assessing contamination and fines for missing those dates.
On Monday, DENR asked Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway to postpone a decision on the settlement while the department “undertakes a comprehensive review of all North Carolina coal ash facilities in view of the recent coal ash release into the Dan River.”
Skvarla said the Dan River spill “may cause us to re-evaluate the proposed consent order, including the prioritization of the locations involved.”
Added Elliot, the department spokesman: “All options are on the table right now.”
Elliot said state law requires Duke, with state approval, to develop a plan to contain and clean up water contaminated by ash. “We can’t just unilaterally do this,” he said when asked if the state could force Duke to remove ash from the ponds.
Duke signals it, too, is looking for new approaches to its ash handling.
The company has retired seven of its 14 coal-fired power plants in the state and has said it will decide whether to remove the ash from ponds on those sites or leave it in place with waterproof caps. Ash at still-operating plants is increasingly being stored, in dry form, in landfills.
“We are eager to complete the work outlined in the proposed consent order and recognize the state would like to re-evaluate it,” Duke said in a statement Tuesday. “The event at Dan River is a good reason to take a fresh look at our plans moving forward, and we’ve already begun to do so.”
The environmental groups involved in the state lawsuits insist Duke should be forced to remove the ash stored in open ponds at the power plants. South Carolina’s S.C. Electric & Gas and the state-owned utility Santee Cooper have both agreed to remove ash near waterways.
Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said North Carolina continues to stall making Duke move its ash from ponds near waterways.
“The ‘comprehensive review’ of Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds now proposed by DENR cannot be taken seriously,” he said. “Like the sweetheart settlement proposed in August, this move allows a dire threat to linger and falls short of the cleanup these sites need and citizens deserve.”
Holleman said Ridgeway had refused to quickly approve the proposed Riverbend-Asheville settlement. The Wake County judge had allowed the environmental groups to continue seeking internal records from Duke and public records from the state.
“I got the clear impression the judge was going to give it a hard look,” Holleman said. No hearing on the evidence in the case has been scheduled State should sever its cozy ties with Duke
Published in: Opinion

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This is the first sentence of N.C. DENR’s mission statement: “It is recognized that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ primary mission is to protect North Carolina’s environment and natural resources.”
And this is its last sentence: “The outcome: That a collaborative stewardship among the citizens, government regulators and the business community will maintain and enhance North Carolina’s environment and natural resources for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone living in or visiting our great state.”
Seems pretty clear. But somewhere between the first and last sentence, the agency that’s supposed to protect the environment has lost its way. Rather than responsibly safeguarding North Carolina’s environment with tough enforcement, it admits to seeing polluters as partners. While regulators need to be reasonable, North Carolina’s go out of their way to protect companies. Score one for corporations over canoes.
Duke Energy’s spill last week of some 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River north of Greensboro – the third-largest such spill in the nation’s history – could have been avoided by moving the ash years ago. Each time environmental advocates took legal action to force Duke to clean up its ash ponds, the state of North Carolina blocked them.
Associated Press reporters Michael Biesecker and Mitch Weiss revealed the extent of the problem in a story Sunday. Three times in the past year environmental groups were poised to sue Duke to force coal ash cleanups; all three times DENR stepped in at the last moment to slow them down.
Federal law requires groups to give the state 60 days’ notice before suing. The state can stop the case from proceeding by taking enforcement action. Advocates gave notice in January, March and June of 2013 that they intended to sue Duke over different coal ash locations. Each time, the state stepped in on or near the last day.
Pressured, the state filed its own suits, then proposed a settlement with Duke in which the company would be fined a paltry $99,111 over violations in Asheville and at Mountain Island Lake outside Charlotte – but would not be required to move the ash.
AP reported that environmentalists have long regarded DENR as being too cozy with those it regulates, but believe things have worsened under Gov. Pat McCrory, a former longtime Duke employee. Duke and those closely affiliated with it have given at least $1.1 million to McCrory’s campaign and groups supporting him since 2008, AP found.
It’s a different story one state to the south. In South Carolina, the two biggest utilities, Santee Cooper and SCE&G, have agreed to excavate their ponds and bury the ash in dry, lined landfills.
Late Monday, DENR withdrew its proposed settlement, telling the judge it intended to conduct a “comprehensive review” of Duke’s coal ash ponds. It’s a promising sign that a settlement slanted so heavily toward Duke is on hold. But after years of attention to this issue, what’s left to review? The disaster on the Dan makes starkly clear what needs to happen.
Duke says it plans to deal with its ash ponds. But when? Before or after another catastrophic breach? The company doesn’t say.
Meanwhile, influential Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said Tuesday that he intends to file legislation that forces Duke to dry out the ponds and move their waste.
Such an aggressive move would be a welcome change from the state’s performance to this point.
Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks and Justin Quinlivan on the Dan River educating #coalash spill with high school students from Stokes County.

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Duke Energy Ash Spill Information