Saturday, June 2, 2018

Meet the New Boss-Same as the Old Boss: Governor Cooper's "Kinder, Gentler" North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

~  The Who: Won't Get Fooled Again


This recent article caught my eye:

"After years of unsafe practices, North Carolina seeks environmental redemption"

You might say I am jaded. You would be correct. That said, in early 2017, I, was cautiously optimistic- even hopeful- that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was turning over a new leaf, and that Duke Energy's influence would decrease. They certainly spent a lot of time touting that. You know the old saying... ummmm- well, if it happens twice shame on me. Instead, let's talk about a company strongly identified with the McCrory administration- Duke Energy.  We all know about Duke Energy's coal ash problems- but did you know that Duke Energy is a major partner in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline? 

Has anything changed? 

Coal Ash

The first indication that things might not be so rosy is that DEQ appealed Superior Court Judge Carl Fox's decision on the Chatham and Lee county coal ash landfills. You may recall that Judge Fox ruled that what Charah was doing was not mine reclamation. Lisa Sorg's article gives a good explanation.

 Judge Fox: DEQ acted improperly in allowing coal ash to be buried in unmined land in Chatham County

At this point, DEQ could have done the right thing, saved some money, declined to appeal Judge Fox's decision, and let the company handle it all.  Alas, this was not to be-  DEQ chose to appeal.

DEQ appeals Judge Fox’s ruling on Brickhaven mine, coal ash

Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP)

The new and improved DEQ held lots of meetings on this issue and had several different comment periods. They invited impacted community people to come to Raleigh and meet, several times. People provided information to DEQ regarding environmental justice, no need for the pipeline, potential environmental harm, safety, and Dominion's (majority stockholder) plans to extend into South Carolina. There were numerous reasons that DEQ could have, in fact should have, denied the 401 Certification- the major permit that would allow the pipeline to go forward.

Then, this happened:

Duke Energy, ready to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, goes to the top: Gov. Cooper

On January 26, 2018, DEQ approved the 401, and Governor Roy Cooper proudly announced that ACP was going to pay the state $57.8 million for the privilege. How do you like your quid pro quo served?

Atlantic Coast Pipeline could bring $57.8M headache for Gov. Roy Cooper

Also on January 26, several organizations "visited" DEQ appealing to the agency not to issue the permit. We left after Secretary Michael Regan agreed to meet with us at a later date. On January 30, 2018 I submitted a records request on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This is the reply I got from Secretary Regan's Executive Assistant:

Good morning Ms. Vick, Thank you for your public information request.  We will use the time to respond to your request as quickly as possible, and will explore meeting dates at a later time. 


We were gobsmacked. (See what I did there?) With all the grief we gave former Governor Pat McCrory, I was never "punished" for submitting a records request. Even worse- all the other orgs were sent to time out as well- and they had nothing to do with BREDL's request.

Perhaps most disturbing is DEQ's inaction on environmental justice issues surrounding the ACP. DEQ accepted without question the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's flawed environmental justice findings. This provides a stark contrast to their rush to protect mostly white, mostly wealthy beach communities from offshore drilling. 

N.C. governor stuck between a pipeline and offshore drilling plan

“Although it’s fantastic Cooper is fighting for our coast, approving the Atlantic Coast Pipeline demonstrates how committed he is to environmental justice, as well as [fighting] climate change,” said Therese Vick, an organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. “It looks like hypocrisy. It is hypocrisy.”

Activists, Attorneys Say Government Ignored Data on Negative Impact of Pipeline on Natives, Blacks The number of Indigenous people who could be negatively impacted is larger than those living near the Dakota Access pipeline.


The new DEQ emphasizes their commitment to transparency. However, BREDL's January 29, 2018 records request has not been fulfilled- (except for a link to a few records that magically disappeared). In a few days, DEQ will exceed the time it took to get records from the McCrory administration. 

Yes, change takes time. But while DEQ is establishing their Boards and holding their meetings, they are continuing to issue permits that allow pollutants to be released into communities, and put families in harms way from explosions, spills and other accidents. All this talkin' pretty is meaningless unless backed with enforcement actions, true transparency, and maybe ~gasp~ a few permit denials. 

House destroyed by pipeline explosion

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Governor McAuliffe: You Can Run, But You Can’t HIDE!


This is a guest post by my coworker Carolyn Reilly. Carolyn lives in Virginia, and her family's farm could be severely impacted should the Mountain Valley Pipeline be built. Activist in Virginia and beyond will March on the Mansion on July 23rd. Enjoy!

by Carolyn Reilly, Community Organizer
The trees are still this morning, yet life and motion flutter all around them. Birds flit from branch to branch, calling and singing of the dawn. But the tree trunk is steadfast and solid, no wind to bend and sway its body. Underneath the ground, there’s a root web, connecting these breathing beauties. I believe there must be spirit and life that dwells within each and every one. They are their own little worlds with life swarming and dwelling on and under each tree. To disrupt and destroy hundreds of thousands of trees just to bury a pipe underground and pump a fracked fossil fuel is murder and mass destruction of habitat.
Oh! But the Governor of Virginia (McAuliffe) wanted to plant a tree; a humble American chestnut, inside the Smith Mountain Lake State Park, where over 100 water crossings upstream would be made by the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. And not to mention thou-sands of trees clear cut and burned. Several pipeline fighters and I decided to let the Governor know how we felt about this and how contradictory it is as he has been supportive of two massive fracked gas transmission pipelines proposed to be buried in the state of Virginia.
We gathered and carpooled on a cool, wet day in early May. Our travels were delayed because of the rain and traffic. I received a phone call from my fellow co-worker Sharon Ponton who was on the ground at the State Park; “McAuliffe may not make it for the tree-planting. He’s running late,” she said. As we meandered our way through the rain and back country roads, we found ourselves behind a shiny black Suburban with Virginia government tags. All in the van were excited as we felt sure we were following the Governor (who wasn’t late at all!). The vehicle took a sharp turn to the right, just a half mile before the entrance to the State Park. Our van-load of protectors and protestors careened around the corner, following the state vehicle. It sped away and we quickly realized we’d be better off to get to the tree-planting location at the park, even if the Governor didn’t.
In fact, we discovered that he was not coming to plant a tree and sent Molly Ward, chair of Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources, in his place. We obtained a permit from the State Park, giving us the right to protest and the seven of us stood in the cold rain, calmly proclaiming our chant for protection: “Save our trees! Save our water! No Pipelines!” We respectfully abstained during the ceremonial speeches and held out to shout our refrain just as the tree was being placed into the ground. The sacred act of planting a tree is beautiful; a young tree nestling down into the welcoming warmth of spring soil, its roots reaching and connecting to the web of life that sustains us all. And the Governor? His state vehicle zipped by minutes after – on the run from the trees and the people who protect them.
Other Virginia citizens and residents have gathered and garnered energy in the movement to protect our state’s environment. From fracking to Coal Ash, people are meeting to share their experiences and concerns surrounding climate change and the indifference of big business when it comes to the health of communities. For example, Coal Ash dumpsites throughout central Virginia have been leaching contaminants into wells and waterways. Utility giant, Dominion recently purchased a neighboring property purportedly to create a “larger buffer” around its Bremo Power Plant, but soon after a report released by Duke University’s Dr. Avner VenGosh indicated that this same plant has been leaching heavy metal toxins into ground water. Utility corporations rush to apply and receive permits from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) to de-water and close coal ash ponds in communities from Lebanon to Chesapeake. Instead of 1 million tons of coal ash at one Dominion plant, in depositions they admit the total is 3 million tons. The Governor’s inaction and lack of concern that our rivers and streams are being contaminated with “treated” toxic wastewater is astounding, and the belief that these utilities will be allowed to cap in place coal ash ponds when there is current proof they are leaking, contradicts his claim when running for Governor that he cares about the people and our environment.
Several of BREDL’s Virginia chapters are working to obtain fracking bans in the counties of Warren, Fredrick, Clarke and Nelson. Others are working with landowners to understand the consequences of biosolids being spread on their farmland. VADEQ says it’s safe, yet they fail to tell farmers they don’t test the sludge for pharmaceuticals or chemicals which are dangerous to their crops and livestock.
McAuliffe’s climate record has been spiraling down-ward since elected in 2013. Being a Governor who has ignored his constituents and tended to run when opposition shows up, citizens are calling him out – he can’t hide! As more and more people have continued to rise up and hold the governor accountable, a movement has grown, bringing together a variety of organizations, grassroots groups, advocates and faith leaders from communities throughout Virginia. A coalition has formed to organize a targeted action: March on the Mansion. Activists, landowners, people of faith, fighters for justice and many others will gather to rally and march to the Governor’s mansion in the state capital on July 23rd. At this Richmond event, we march for our land, clean water and climate. We demand that McAuliffe stand with the people, NOT corporate polluters! (Join in the movement and keep up to date at

Just as the roots of trees form a web of life and sup-port, so does the connection of many people who pull together and unite to fight in protecting our environment and the climate we in which we live. In Virginia, we are strong, and our roots spread wide to touch others as we encourage life and health for our communities. May we all be inspired by the strength, beauty, and life of trees and nourished from the encouragement our community roots give us.

Watch the powerful video from Virginia Student Environmental Action Coalition here:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Justice for All?


I was among the many that attended an April 7th hearing held by the North Carolina Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights in Walnut Cove. The testimony from the community and panelists (well at least some of the panelists) was moving and powerful, in fact more than one Commission member was moved to tears. Our own Mr. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder was a panelist! He didn't move anyone to tears, however he did give us one of the most fascinating interludes. He proudly announced that  DEQ would do an environmental justice analysis of any new Duke Energy coal ash disposal site and would not issue a permit for a Duke Energy landfill unless the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Commission approved it. DEQ followed this up with a letter. You can read it here:

The day before, at a seminar held by the UNC Institute for the Environment, Secretary Reeder stated "We're gonna make sure we do an environmental justice screening on all landfills that handle coal ash associated with these Duke facilities...whether we permit sites on Duke facilities or off..."

On its face, DEQ's announcement seems like a good step forward on environmental justice. However, upon closer examination it does not appear so. Let's unpack this and see what is really going on between the lines. Among other things:

1. The US EPA has few legal mechanisms and little legal authority to deny a permit on environmental justice grounds. 
2. The US Commission on Civil Rights only has authority to make recommendations. There are no federal rules that require any agency to enact policy/regulations based on those recommendations.
3. The Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) does not give NC DEQ the legal authority to deny a permit on environmental justice grounds. There is no proposed rulemaking or legislation that would amend the CAMA to give them the authority to do so. DEQ is rather busy placing gag orders on state and local health officials.
4. I have asked several people within DEQ  for specific answers to the questions below. The answers re-stated the press release, which conflicts with some of the remarks made by Tom Reeder in public: 
  •  Will this apply to any new facility that accepts coal ash from Duke Energy? Including MSWLF's, new coal ash landfills owned by a third party, structural fills, or mine reclamations?
  • Will it apply to expansions or modifications of existing facilities that Duke Energy targets for coal ash disposal?
  • If a third-party waste disposal firm contracts with Duke Energy to dispose of coal ash, will this new policy apply to any a new or expanding facility that the third party selects to  dispose of the coal ash?
5. Why isn't DEQ looking at targeted communities, and communities already impacted by coal ash disposal?
6. What happens if Duke Energy ships coal ash out of state? Don't those communities deserve justice also? 
7. Lawsuits. Lots of them.
8. What if coal ash from other states is shipped into North Carolina? Will that make it "just?"

We need to open the drapes on DEQ's window dressing. They are setting up a straw man so that they can point fingers at the federal government and others; it is hard to know what the motivation is. If they really mean it- we will know. There will be a bill, or a rulemaking. Soon. 

#coalash #environmentaljustice #NCDEQ #DontExpectQuality

Thursday, April 14, 2016

UPDATE August 3: Coal Ash + Duke Energy=DEQ's Weird Science

So...what would you little maniacs like to do first? 

~Lisa, Weird Science, 1985


The story continues:

Testimony: McCrory called toxicologist Ken Rudo to his office to discuss do-not-drink letters for well owners near coal ash pits

Gov. Pat McCrory summoned state toxicologist Ken Rudo to his office in early 2015 for a meeting during which a McCrory staff member challenged the advisory Rudo had helped draft telling well owners near coal ash pits owned by Duke Energy not to drink their water, according to recent testimony given in a deposition by Rudo.

Friends, a recent headline:

Testimony: Duke Energy met with state officials to challenge water advisories

Duke Energy used its access at top levels of state government to challenge the do-not-drink warning and health screening level that had been vetted by state health experts for the carcinogen hexavalent chromium in private wells near the company’s coal ash basins, according to testimony by the state epidemiologist made public Thursday.


We have witnessed a true miracle in North Carolina! Hexavalent chromium (the toxic metal made infamous by Erin Brockovich)  has been rendered safe by sheer willpower and four magic words. Who, you might ask, is responsible for this feat? None other than our very own Mr. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder. Remember Tom? He was featured in a post from another blog of mine a while back: Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink: Part One. Since then, Tom got a promotion! Let's get back to the subject of this piece, hexavalent chromium aka Cr(VI).

Cr(VI) is an endocrine disrupting and carcinogenic toxic metal that is almost always produced by industrial processes, and is found in coal ash (magic words). The US EPA has been avoiding requirements to control this substance in drinking water, not because it isn't dangerous, it is-their own research shows that. After EPA proposed limits for Cr(VI) in 2010, the industry push back was so fierce it sent EPA running to put their recommended level back on the shelf.

Fast forward to North Carolina in 2014. The Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) was passed in 2014 following the Dan River spill. Testing private wells around Duke Energy (two more magic words) coal ash impoundments was one of the provisions of the law. Because Cr(VI) and vanadium had no established limits in North Carolina, DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) were tasked with coming up with recommendations, which they did. Testing began around the coal ash impoundments, and, among other nasty things, surprise, surprise Cr(VI) and vanadium started showing up above safe levels in people's wells.  Also under the enchantment of the magic words, baseline testing of private wells near Duke Energy's proposed coal ash landfill in Lee County started showing high levels of Cr(VI). This site has possible legacy contamination which was not investigated prior to the permitting of the landfill- although concerns were raised about it. DHHS sent out "do not drink" letters. Then...the magic happened. The combination of those four magic words coal ash + Duke Energy was so powerful that hexavalent chromium began to be detoxified. Amazing! Astounding!

Wait a minute- toxicologists and epidemiologists with DHHS and DEQ collaborated on the assessment of Cr(VI), using established risk-assessment methodology- including the process that the DEQ uses to analyze the public health risk of chemicals in groundwater. North Carolina law requires that toxic constituents in groundwater pose no more than a one-in a-million risk of cancer to the public. But they were no match for those four magic words, coal ash+Duke Energy. From emails obtained through a public records request:
"The MCL and the N.C. 2L standard for total chromium are dated and no longer protective of public health based on the principles by which the N.C. 2L standards are based.
 The excess life-time cancer risk estimates for the MCL and the N.C. 2L standards calculated using the 2L rule method result in an unacceptable level of excess life-time human cancer risk."

Health experts in North Carolina are not alone in their concern about the levels of Cr(VI) being found. In a recent article, Max Costa, professor of environmental medicine at New York University said of the amounts being found around coal ash (magic words) pits here: I wouldn’t want to drink water with 21 parts per billion hexavalent chromium. You’re drinking a carcinogen.” A year of fear and distrust in Dukeville- Environmental Health News April 18, 2016

Enter Dr. Randall Williams, state health director. He's a likeable kind of guy- he delivers babies for heaven's sake! (Full disclosure I have never trusted someone wearing a bow-tie...) Dr. Williams went on the road with Reeder. I caught their magic act in Lee County: 

What Reeder would have us believe is that municipalities all across North Carolina have Cr(VI) levels higher than the private wells around Duke Energy's coal ash impoundments. The snake oil Dr. Williams is selling is that vanadium is good for us, and that we should ignore the state's public health experts on Cr(VI). 

The "do drink" letters began arriving in communities across North Carolina. 

The media has done an excellent job of explaining:

Winston-Salem Journal: 

By lifting do-not-drink warning, state water and health regulators choose 1 in 700 cancer risk


Well owners say new guidance raises old coal ash concerns Read more at

Also deeply disturbing, a legislative committee, the Environmental Review Commission  is considering a bill that is frankly a gag order that will limit the ability of DEQ and DHHS to notifiy private well owners unless a contaminant exceeds a federal level- which ignores North Carolina's health based screening levels.

The public deserves a state agency that protects public health and the environment, not polluters. Recently, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources changed their name to the Department of Environmental Quality. We have a better idea DEQ: Don't Expect Quality.

#coalash #NCDEQ #DontExpectQuality #DukeEnergy #ncpol

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Occam's Razor or Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? UPDATE

    "Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem."[1]Translated from the Latin:"More things should not be used than are necessary."

    The theory of Occam's (or Ockham's) Razor is a philosophical belief that the simplest answer is usually the correct one.


It is truly amazing what our minds can get up to in the dark hours of the night. Struggling with the the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for months to get complete responses to numerous public records requests has been a frustrating experience. The requests pertained to the permitting of the Chatham and Lee County landfills where Duke Energy wants to dump millions of tons of dangerous coal ash. What was provided- including evidence of over 50 meetings, phone calls or other contact with no notes, and calls for permit decisions before the public comment period closed reflect  DEQ's willingness to manipulate the process to benefit Duke Energy.

However, this pales in comparison to a 2015 dinner date that Governor Pat McCrory had with DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart, and Duke CEO Lynn Good, which included an assortment of lawyers. WRAL. a Raleigh television station broke the story about the June 1st dinner. See story here: Governor, top Duke Energy officials met privately, won't say why. The attendees still won't say why. What we do know about the dinner was that it was not disclosed to the press, in discovery, or in the records provided to us. We also know that it was only 2 weeks after Duke Energy pleaded guilty to 9 criminal misdemeanors, 3 days after Charah, the company that owns the Lee and Chatham coal ash landfills was discovered operating without a permit for certain activities at the site, 4 days before the permits were issued for the 2 landfills, and before the DEQ cited Charah with violations- for which they were not fined. 

Now, I don't know about you, but this is as clear as coal ash to me. Stay tuned...

#coalash #DukeEnergy #BREDL

UPDATE October 19, 2016

At last night's gubernatorial debate, Governor McCrory spoke out about the June 1, 2015 dinner with Duke Energy and company.  From the WRAL story: 

"I didn't take notes," McCrory said during Tuesday's debate in answer to a question about the meeting. "I'll tell you what was discussed. I discussed that I was going to veto the bill that they wanted." He then recounted, "I said, 'I’m going to veto this thing. It's totally unacceptable, and I’m going to take it to the Supreme Court.'" 

Ummm- the Coal Ash Management Act was passed in 2014, and the bill he vetoed came in 2016.  Apparently he has had so many dinners with Duke Energy that he can't keep track. Or he is psychic...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Public Hearings

" If you participate in a public hearing, the ultimate result is that a permit will be granted. If you choose not to participate in a public hearing, the ultimate result is that a permit will be granted."
~Speaker at US EPA training in Research Triangle Park


After just attending and speaking at the 20th, or 30th or 50th public hearing, ( full disclaimer I was taken out and arrested at one and boycotted another) I pondered upon what a public hearing really means, and why we participate in such a manipulative, disempowering, unfair, and seemingly useless process.

The Scene is Set; and fraught with tension: the hearing officer is at the front of the room, often positioned above the regular folks. Regulatory agency employees are scattered throughout the room, and depending on how contentious the issue is there might be state and local officials. The company will have their representatives in attendance, ready to jump in front of the camera.

People have spent hours poring over permit documents or proposed rules, sometimes having to read and re-read the complicated and unfamiliar language. Even for those used to reviewing such things, it isn't easy. Folks have taken time off work, gotten babysitters or brought their children, missed supper. Sometimes they have come a long way.

They have had to overcome their anxieties about speaking in public, their concerns that they don't understand the technical issues well enough, that they will say something wrong, be laughed at, be reprimanded or worse at work, or lose business.

The Hearing Starts: The hearing officer instructs those assembled that comments should be limited to technical or legal issues only- simply saying you don't want something doesn't count. Your comments are generally limited to no more than 5 minutes.
The public starts to comment- professionals weigh in also- maybe even a lawyer or two- the  agency will pay attention to their concerns, right? Speakers are abruptly cut off by a buzzer, and if they continue to speak, by the hearing officer. If they continue, they could be escorted out of the hearing or worse.

The Hearing Ends: Folks go back to their homes and jobs, corporate representatives to their offices and regulatory staff to the safe confines of their agencies.

The Waiting Begins:  Everyone is on edge, waiting to hear the decision that will impact them so profoundly. Will the agency do the right thing? Will they deny the permits, or make important modifications to make them stronger? Will they go back and look at the proposed rules to incorporate provisions which will better protect public health and the environment?

All is not lost! Friends, you may ask, why in the world would one participate in such an undemocratic process, where people who will have to live with an agency decision are so abused? There are many reasons, to get important issues on the record, have legal standing to appeal an agency decision, to make your case in the court of public opinion. That being said, I think it is way past time to start getting a little more proactive and creative with this process,  and a little less predictable. 

Hang on tight- its gonna be one heck of a ride...

Sunday, November 30, 2014



As we are celebrating the conspicuous consumption holi-day after Thanksgiving, I thought I would introduce you to a different "Black Friday." On Friday, November 14, 2014, residents and some local officials of Lee and Chatham Counties were stunned to learn that Duke Energy planned on dumping millions of tons of coal ash in old clay mines located there. Chatham and Lee counties are already targeted for fracking, and now they are being targeted again by dirty energy. Duke Energy and the North Carolina are touting this as the "reuse" of coal ash- in truth the plan is establishing coal ash landfills while not being required to follow many of the requirements that would be placed on the siting of a municipal solid waste landfill in any North Carolina county-including requiring local approval. On Friday, November 21, 2014, Duke Energy's contractor and the owner of the sites, Charah, Inc., submitted applications to the Division of Waste Management (DWM), and the Division of Energy, Mines, and Land Resources (DEMLR) to develop the old mines as "structural fills," On Wednesday, November 26, 2014 (let's just call it a Friday news dump being the day before the Thanksgiving holiday) The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) released a press statement which said, in part:

"Duke Energy announced Nov. 13 its intentions to reuse coal ash by shipping some of it from the Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly and the L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant in Wilmington to the open-pit clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties. The utility has also announced plans to reuse some coal ash at its Asheville Power Plant at an existing lined structural fill project at the Asheville Regional Airport and to reuse some of the coal ash from the Dan River facility at an existing lined landfill in Jetersville, Va."

After reviewing both applications to DEMLR and DWM, the numbers being reported in the media and the press release by DENR don't seem to match up.

From the permit documents submitted to DENR:

Lee County: DEMLR and DWM Applications
10: Number of years for which the mining permit is requested.
8,800,000 tons: Quantity of coal ash to be disposed of.
Power Generation Facilities Located in North Carolina and South Carolina: Proposed service areas the coal ash may come from.

Chatham County: DEMLR and DWM Applications
10: Number of years for which the mining permit is requested.
12,800,000 tons: Quantity of coal ash to be disposed of.
Power Generation Facilities Located in North Carolina and South Carolina: Proposed service areas the coal ash may come from.

Both the sites raise questions of environmental justice. There are questions of who knew what and when they knew it. Why the legislation passed this summer was widely considered dead and came back to life like a zombie. DENR and Duke may try and use pretty words- but the fact remains that millions of tons of coal ash-and its liability- are being dumped on Lee and Chatham counties.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Every Breath We Take


This is a new blog which will address the shenanigans of more than my Mining and Energy Commission family members.Doings of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) , Environmental Management Commission (EMC), the Governor and that big happy family which resides at the North Carolina General Assembly will all have starring and lesser roles here.

My! The Jones Street branch of my dysfunctional family has been busy in the just over 7 days they came back from vacation! This first post is about clean air. You remember clean air? Look fast, because the North Carolina Senate is poised to pass S734 which, among other things, extremely limits a community's ability to appeal an air permit decision, and will make the Division of Air Quality  take off-line or remove any ambient monitoring stations not required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Among the monitors in jeopardy is the baseline ambient monitor in Lee County, which was sited to monitor the air prior to the commencement of fracking there. Bill puts Lee County air monitor at risk May. 25, 2014

The bill also allows polluters to "self-report" violations without fear of enforcement actions and to keep internal audits out of the hands of state regulators. You can read more at former DENR Secretary of Environment Robin Smith's blog:

News and Observer article here:

North Carolina's clean air is already under attack:

In 2012, the General Assembly effectively dismantled the air toxics program. See Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League Report: “First, they came for...” The North Carolina Legislature’s Assault on the Public.

In November 2013, after a recommendation from the Division of Air Quality and the Science Advisory Board on Air Toxics, the Environmental Management Commission voted to increase the allowable ambient limit of arsenic in the air ninefold. An excerpt from the BREDL "First We Came For" report:

“Even the Cat’s in on it!”  -Mortimer Brewster Arsenic and Old Lace 

Because of these troubling admissions, BREDL staffer Therese Vick began investigating the 
history behind the reevaluation. After a review of DAQ documents and several web searches, it 
became clear that the impetus behind the requested change was likely coming from influences 
outside of NC DENR. For example, in the “PSD Preliminary Review – modification 300 
construction/operation permit (Draft Revision 8, July 2011 – Assistant Secretary)” for Carolinas 
Cement Company LLC (aka Titan Cement) proposed to be located in Castle Hayne, North 
Carolina, the modeled arsenic levels are at 30% of the AAL— according to the company’s own 
modeling and after pollution control. The amount of arsenic potentially emitted into the air of the 
surrounding community is significant and dangerous. In the Draft Revision, DAQ attempts to 
diminish the potential concern over these levels by saying “Finally, the Scientific
Advisory Board is considering adjusting the Arsenic AAL.”As troubling as 30% is, it pales in 
comparison to the almost 48% of the AAL modeled in an earlier draft.

Industry is certainly following this proposed change very closely, and their relationship with the 
DAQ is inappropriate at best. Industry admits that sources are having problems meeting the 
arsenic AAL. Trinity Consultants, a North Carolina environmental consulting firm posted this on 
their website: 

“For a variety of emission source(s), particularly combustion sources, the arsenic AAL 
has often been problematic in TAP air dispersion modeling. In some cases, affected 
facilities have had to improve pollution control systems, increase stack heights or place 
operational limits to demonstrate compliance with the arsenic AA(L)."

 At the November 2010 meeting of the SAB, Brendan Davey, DAQ staff from the Asheville 
Regional Office, remarked that “there are a few combustion sources in the Asheville region that 
are having difficulty complying with the AAL for arsenic given current regulations”, “the control technology for these emissions is insufficient...”Mr. Davey was speaking of Blue 
Ridge Paper in Canton, Jackson Paper Manufacturing Company in Silva, and Zickgraf 
Hardwood Flooring Company in Franklin, NC 

Perhaps most troubling is the downward trend in enforcement actions. This chart is from a DAQ document summarizing enforcement actions since 2009. "NOD's" are notices of deficiency supposedly reserved for minor permit violations. "NOV's" are notices of violation which can result in fines or other enforcement actions.  

DAQ Enforcement Actions (2009-2013)
NOVs (number)
Penalty Assessments
Penalty Assessments
Special Orders by Consent
[dollars (number)]
$34,000 (1)
$24,000 (2)
$30,000 (1)
$40,000 (1)
$12,000 (2)

There is not one reported civil penalty imposed on an industry since the July 2013 report on the DAQ website. It's nice to know our industry is doing such a great job! .  View the reports here: Division of Air Quality Civil Penalty Assessments.

Its enough to choke a mule.....

Meet the New Boss-Same as the Old Boss: Governor Cooper's "Kinder, Gentler" North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

~  The Who: Won't Get Fooled Again Friends, This recent article caught my eye: "After years of unsafe practices, North Car...