Tuesday, February 18, 2014

‘Smug’ VUI editorial / Keeping polluters honest / Could stricter oversight have prevented spill?


Comments:  Take Dumblap with a grain of salt, he does not understand the physics of a failing nuke cycle!
Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014 7:00 am ‘Smug’ VUI editorial missed mark

The Editorial Boardgodanriver.com
To the editor:

Regarding your smug editorial gloating over the current setback for Virginia Uranium, ("Game, set and match for VUI?" Feb. 8, page A), it is dishonest to gird your arguments with such grossly misleading information. It is reminiscent of the long campaign to destroy the Coles Hill project by promoting false fears based on ignorance.

Take, for example, your editorial’s sweeping claims about the bleak future of uranium. No less a respected authority than Barron’s financial magazine in a Feb. 6 story points to the burgeoning need for new reactors in China, Russia, Eastern Europe and India — and the fact these reactors will need uranium fuel.
States Barron’s: "Globally, the number of nuclear power plants is expected to increase 20 percent to roughly 520 by 2022 … Mining companies will need to meet global [uranium] demand expected to climb from around 170 million pounds today to 220 million pounds over the next decade."

As for your writing off Japan’s nuclear future because of Fukushima, I suggest you think again. In the election a few days ago, the anti-nuclear candidates were hammered by the voters who elected level-headed leaders who recognize that restarting Japan’s reactors is an important option for cheap, clean energy.

Here’s how The Wall Street Journal reported it: "The election outcome provides relief for [Prime Minister Shinto] Abe. Restarting nuclear power plants shut down after the 2011 Fukushima disaster is a priority for his administration, as the nation’s huge energy import bills threaten to undermine economic growth … ."

The most egregious misrepresentation in your editorial is the suggestion that the Coles Hill mining would come and go according to the price of uranium. As VUI has pointed out many times, uranium sales are based on long-term contracts that protect the mining company as well as the utilities from daily fluctuations of the spot prices.
Yes, I am a proponent of the Coles Hill project and its stunning promise for economic prosperity for our region. It would go a long ways in muting the stigma our region suffers from in terms of high unemployment rates, low-wage jobs, pathetic educational levels and a diminishing tax base. My hope is that in the end, good sense will overcome the petulant hostility that has characterized the opposition to this project.

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014 7:30 am
The Editorial Boardgodanriver.com
There’s no mystery to the Feb. 2 coal ash spill that has turned the Dan River gray.
  Less than a week after the spill — on Friday, Feb. 7 — Duke Energy officials were in Danville, publicly apologizing for the spill and vowing to make things right.
The spill occurred when a corrugated metal pipe hundreds of feet from the Dan River and directly below a massive coal ash storage pond failed. The pipe is so old, its exact age hasn’t been determined, but it was probably installed in the early 1960s.
But the story behind the story became clear a week and a day after the spill, on Feb. 10, when federal authorities launched an investigation into the relationship between Duke Energy and North Carolina regulators.

"An official criminal investigation of a suspected felony is being conducted by an agency of the United States and a federal grand jury," the subpoena, which was dated Monday, said, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"If anything proves that this is a very serious situation, this subpoena and this grand jury do it," Frank Holleman, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the AP. "To date, if this doesn’t get Duke’s attention and if this doesn’t get [the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resource’s] attention, what will?"

It’s one thing when an old pipe fails, but quite another when a company works hand-in-hand with regulators to keep that pipe in the ground instead of protecting the public and the natural resources of people living in two states.

Those federal subpoenas were issued after The Associated Press reported that environmental groups tried to sue Duke Energy under the federal Clean Water Act to clean up leaking coal ash dumps because, those groups contended, the state’s own regulators failed to act on evidence of groundwater contamination and blocked citizen lawsuits against Duke Energy.

When a person commits a crime, one of the harshest punishments they can receive is time behind bars.

For a company, the toughest penalty is to be fined — to have to pay out penalties out of their profits and to have to spend money that they didn’t want to spend to do something they didn’t want to do.
If there is any truth to the accusations against Duke Energy, we want them to be heavily fined for what they did to our river, and we want them to have to spend money to completely remove the coal ash stored just a few feet from our river.

Let those costs pollute Duke Energy’s bottom line, like their recklessness polluted our river.

But Bartos and a platoon of his fellow officials dodged an important question several in the crowd posed in different ways: It’s great you’re here now, but where were you before it happened and why didn’t you prevent it?
Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014 8:48 pm
Could stricter oversight have prevented spill?

By Taft Wireback
(Greensboro, N.C) News & Recordgodanriver.com

DANVILLE — You couldn’t exactly say that regulators oozed personality at last week’s public hearing 20 miles downstream from Duke Energy’s massive coal ash spill.
  But federal responders and other government officials sought to reassure a standing-room-only crowd of people who drink every day from the Dan River, now sullied by unknown tons of toxic ash from the Feb. 2 spill.
  They promised a thorough cleanup of the ash basin accident at the shuttered Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.

“Our job is making sure all the remediation that can be done, is done,” said Myles Bartos, an “on scene coordinator” for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “We’re not going anywhere for a while.”

But Bartos and a platoon of his fellow officials dodged an important question several in the crowd posed in different ways: It’s great you’re here now, but where were you before it happened and why didn’t you prevent it?

Environmentalists have a ready answer.

“Where were the regulators? They were making things as easy as possible on business and corporations,” said Sam Perkins, a staff member with the Catawba Riverkeeper group that monitors its namesake river system.

“They were trying to push through a court settlement with the nation’s largest utility to excuse decades of coal ash contamination,” Perkins said of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources that supervises and Duke’s Dan River other coal ash operations.

Officials at DENR counter that the overall issue of coal ash regulation, both statewide and nationally, involves much more complexity than critics acknowledge.

They say the agency worked for years to gather sufficient data for new rules while at the federal level, EPA is nearing a final decision after more than a decade of discussing how best to tighten nationwide standards for coal ash handling and disposal.

“It is not a question of being asleep at the switch, but more a case of making sure that we have scientifically supportable data that will stand up to the scrutiny required when moving forward with compliance actions,” said Susan Massengale, a spokeswoman for DENR’s division of water resources.

Meanwhile, activists aren’t alone in their questions about DENR. Federal prosecutors in Raleigh launched a grand jury probe last week into the Dan River spill and the relationship between Duke and the state agency.

EPA surrogate

Nobody doubts the threat from coal ash stored in ponds full of such contaminants as arsenic and selenium that are harmful to humans, wildlife and aquatic life.

And nobody doubts that EPA is the ultimate custodian of the Clean Water Act, which regulates all discharges of wastewater and other pollutants into the nation’s rivers, smaller streams and lakes.
But EPA transfers some of its enforcement power to the various state environmental agencies that issue Clean Water Act permits on EPA’s behalf. The permits allow industries to discharge limited amounts of pollution into nearby bodies of water, giving the state authority to order changes and levy fines when an industrial plant releases more pollution than specified.

EPA reclaimed its leadership role immediately after the spill to supervise the Dan River cleanup, Bartos and other federal officials said last week at the Danville meeting. They came partly because DENR requested their help and partly because the North Carolina spill’s impact was felt both here and across state lines, making it an interstate incident.

DENR failed in its earlier efforts to ensure coal ash was stored properly at the Eden plant and elsewhere around the state, said Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in charge of lawsuits his group has filed over the state’s alleged inaction on coal ash.
In one of several suits, he represents Perkins’ group in a case alleging DENR stood by idly while Duke’s coal ash lagoons on the Catawba threatened the lake that provides drinking water to residents of Charlotte, Gastonia and Mount Holly.

DENR looked the other way as Duke Energy released illegal amounts of contaminated leakage from the ash pond at that lake, Dan River and 12 other company sites that store coal ash, Holleman said.
“It’s a shell game ... It’s bureaucratic gobbledygook,” Holleman said of the department’s claims it was gathering data and supervising Duke Energy’s efforts to safely close its more vulnerable ash basins.

‘Based in science’
The basins submerge ash in millions of gallons of water and legally release relatively small amounts to an adjoining river or lake, but are supposed to limit those releases to levels that scientists say the streams can absorb safely.

DENR shielded Duke by filing its own lawsuits against the company to displace harsher suits that environmentalists filed earlier, Holleman said. The tactic allowed state officials to propose a relatively lenient settlement with a small penalty and no mandate for Duke to clean up its act, he said.

He, Perkins and other environmental activists want the company to move all of its stored coal ash from Dan River and the other plants into lined landfills far from rivers, major streams and lakes.

The utility counters that it did, in fact, spend the last several years working under directives from DENR to gather data on additional pollution at the Dan River site and others.

The studies took place in the shadow of EPA’s continuing review of its coal ash rules, as federal authorities struggled to decide whether coal ash should be reclassified as a hazardous waste. Whatever federal officials decide later this year will affect how existing ash basins such as Dan River’s are closed, company officials say.

Duke engineers finished a preliminary design for closing the Eden ash basin and were poised to start work on detailed engineering plans for that closure when the Feb. 2 spill occurred, said utility spokeswoman Erin Culbert.

“The company’s intent is making sure we have a solid plan that is based in science and that would allow us to move quickly to close the basins,” Culbert said of the coal ash basins at Dan River and the other retired Duke plants with “wet” coal ash storage.

Duke closed its coal-fired Dan River plant about two years ago, replacing it with a facility that runs on natural gas and doesn’t produce the same kind of waste, So the ash basin isn’t expanding, but stores the residue of spent fuel from the retired plant.

‘They’re the regulator’
DENR’s emergency response system apparently needs work. An agency official said at last week’s Danville meeting that shortly after discovering the coal ash spill Feb. 2, Duke Energy properly called a state hotline to report the spill, but regional DENR officials in Winston-Salem didn’t get the word until the next morning — losing precious time.

The lapse is being investigated, DENR said at the Tuesday meeting.

The Dan River spill happened when a corrugated drain pipe broke under the ash basin next to the Dan, letting out an estimated 30,000 to 39,000 tons of coal ash.

On Friday, DENR ordered the company to make repairs to another, similar pipe beneath the basin that showed signs of leakage.

Duke got no special favors from the state at Dan River or anywhere else, the company contends.
“Our relationship with DENR is no different than our relationship with state regulators in any of the other five states where we operate,” spokesman Tom Williams said. “They’re the regulator, we are the regulated.”

But DENR took no action against the utility, Holleman said, even after the company submitted test results in recent years showing it leaked forbidden amounts of pollution from ash storage ponds at Dan River and other plants.

At Dan River, the company acknowledged unauthorized discharges directly into the river from “toe drains” at the foot of a dam that holds back the contaminated water.

The company also reported seepage from Dan River’s ash basin into nearby ground water in six, separate tests between January 2011 and last May. Contaminants included arsenic, boron, iron, manganese, dissolved solids and sulfate, DENR asserted in the lawsuit it filed in August.

That ground water eventually made its way into the river and could have counted as another violation of the Clean Water Act in DENR’s 2013 lawsuit, Holleman said. Instead, state lawyers only flagged the company for violations of North Carolina’s more lenient groundwater-protection statute, he said.
In fact, DENR never penalized Duke Energy for any coal ash violations before it filed last year’s lawsuits on the heels of Holleman’s group, agency spokeswoman Massengale said.

North Carolina utilities suffered only two other, coal ash accidents before the Dan River spill, one in 2010 at a Wilmington power plant owned by Duke and the other at a Roxboro unit owned by Progress Energy during 2008, before that company’s merger with Duke.

Neither incident approached the severity of the Dan River spill, according to DENR’s reports.

“As far as the failure at Dan River,” Massengale said, “we have mounted a task force to take a more in-depth evaluation at coal ash ponds at all 14 coal ash facilities.”