Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Virginia regulators take long view on N.C. coal ash spill

 McCrory: Duke Energy didn't meet its responsibility in coal ash spill


Virginia regulators take long view on N.C. coal ash spill

By Steve Szkotak | Associated Press | Posted: Monday, March 10, 2014 4:33 pm
RICHMOND — Virginia is examining any potential long-term environmental damage from a North Carolina coal ash spill on the Dan River and will hold Duke Energy “fully accountable” if any is found, the director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said Monday.
The department said samples from public drinking water supplies in Danville and South Boston have met or exceeded state and federal safe-drinking standards. The department now is turning to additional monitoring of water supplies and aquatic life to assess any damage over a period of several years.
The news from Director David Paylor was welcomed in Southside, a section of the state where the Dan River meanders along the North Carolina-Virginia state line and is a source of drinking water for Danville and South Boston.
Andrew Lester, executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association, said while the river has shed the visible pollution of the Feb. 2 spill, mollusks and other aquatic life have washed up on the banks of the river since then.
“We don’t know what that’s coming from. We don’t know if the ash is killing them or something else is going on,” he said. “It’s unusual to see.”
The environmental department said its long-term monitoring with the federal government includes bottom-dwelling organisms that are part of the food chain. Bald eagles are among the many species that are part of that chain.
The monitoring also will seek to identify so-called heavy metals linked to the spill accumulated in fish tissue. Coal ash contains hazardous chemicals that include arsenic, lead and mercury. The results of that testing are expected soon.
The spill occurred in Eden, N.C., about 10 miles from Virginia, when a storm-water pipe running beneath a 27-acre coal ash dump collapsed. The spill coated 70 miles of the Dan River with a toxic gray sludge.
Paylor said the Virginia monitoring is aimed at ensuring the long-term health of the Dan River following the Eden spill.
“We intend to hold Duke Energy fully accountable,” he said in a statement. “It is likely that several years of monitoring will be required and we want to ensure that people and the environment remain protected.”
In cooperation with other state agencies, the environmental department is:
  • Compiling historical monitoring data from the Dan to compare its water quality post-spill.
  • Collecting water and sediment samples from the North Carolina line to an area southwest of South Boston.
  • Posting signs along the river advising visitors to limit contact with coal ash.
Lester said local officials simply don’t know all the implications of the spill.
“At this point we just don’t have a good handle on the long-term impacts of this stuff,” he said. “We just don’t know.”
On Friday, Attorney General Mark Herring said he met with Duke Energy representatives to learn more about the spill, what Duke is doing to ensure it isn’t repeated and how the utility will take responsibility for short- and long-term effects.
“We’re glad to see that both the attorney general’s office and the DEQ are taking an active stance in this whole issue,” Lester said. “It’s one of the biggest issues the state has faced in a long time.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and members of his Cabinet have also contacted Duke and North Carolina officials and attended public meetings in Southside.
In North Carolina, meanwhile, state regulators said Monday that weekend reports of a third pipe leaking coal ash at Duke Energy’s plant on the Dan River were incorrect.
Numerous media outlets carried a report of a 12-inch pipe ostensibly leaking just upstream from the much larger drain
age pipe that collapsed Feb. 2 to send tons of contaminated coal ash into the river.
About a week later, regulators verified toxic leakage from a second pipe that also runs under ash ponds near the retired Dan River Steam Station.
But Friday, the Charlotte Business Journal reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed coal ash was leaking from the third pipe at the Eden site.
That report was in error, said Jamie Kritzer, spokesman for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The Greensboro News & Record contributed to this report

Waiting to decide who should pay for ash pond cleanups

March 10, 2014 

Read more here:
At first mention of Duke Energy’s intention to recoup the money it spends on coal ash cleanup from customers, the knee wants to jerk right up to the ears. The customers are going to pay for the company’s mistake? You’ve got to be kidding.
After all, Duke is the world’s largest electric utility and made a profit of $2.7 billion last year.
But for customers, the consequences of the now-infamous Dan River coal ash spill last month really are unknown.
What is known is that if the company seeks to add 75 cents or so to customers’ monthly bills to pay for the spill’s cleanup and for more secure storage of coal ash at other sites, Attorney General Roy Cooper says he will fight it in court.
And the state Utilities Commission, which would have to approve any settlement with Duke, is a politically sensitive organization that isn’t going to want to look anti-consumer should it approve a rate hike.
In addition, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is under the public microscope with people wondering whether DENR was a little too easy-going and “customer friendly” with Duke when it came to the coal ash situation. Add another complication to that one: Gov. Pat McCrory is a former Duke employee, and among his promises in campaigns and on taking office was to reduce regulations that in his view hampered business.
Then there’s this wild card: A federal grand jury is going to convene this month, likely to investigate whether anyone was aware of rules being violated. If it emerges that Duke improperly sought to ease coal ash rules, then clearly the utility should pay to eliminate the hazards that resulted.
It’s hard to know whether Duke’s floating the idea of customers footing the bill is just a preliminary to a proposal that the company pay part of the expense and that customers pay a smaller share. The company position is not without reason: The way the coal ash has been stored, in waste lagoons, is legal. Regulators knew about it.
That said, groundwater contamination has been found. The extent of the pollution isn’t fully known, but at two locations Duke has agreed to provide alternate drinking water sources. State officials say that they’ve tested groundwater samples in the course of a lawsuit DENR has filed against Duke and that the levels of trace elements such as iron and manganese aren’t toxic to most people.
But there still is more testing to be done, and the state must determine the urgency and timetable of the cleanup.
But they do want, and expect, a company that does business in a way that protects the environment and follows the rules. Duke is getting ready to undergo what’s likely unprecedented scrutiny of its operations. What comes out of the scrutiny may well clarify who should pay for the coal ash mess.

Read more here:

Poll: McCrory’s handling of coal ash spill registers disapproval
Only 30 percent of North Carolina voters approve of Gov. Pat McCrory’s handling of the Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River, a new poll finds.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Read more here:

NC Utilities Commission records subpoenaed in coal ash probe
Records from the NC Utilities Commission have been subpoenaed as part of a federal grand jury investigation prompted by the Duke Energy ash spill on the Dan River.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Read more here:
coal ash
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Citizens Speak Out For Protections from Coal Ash! | sierraclubillinois
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dancewater: Second LTE on coal ash spill in the Dan River
dancewater Dancewater
The activists were correct, and they were heroes in my eyes for doing what they did to point out the problems that coal and coal ash are causing us.
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