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: https://ncdenr.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/documents/files/4.14.16%20Letter%20to%20US%20Civil%20Rights%20Commission_0.pdf

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

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