Dueling editorials on NC's coal ash problem

From Sam Perkins at the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation:

When coal burns, ash and scrubber residue are produced. Some is used in drywall and concrete, but a massive amount of waste remains. For disposal, Duke Power mixes the ash with water and dumps that slurry into ponds, which drain – untreated – into our drinking water reservoirs. The ash contains toxic metals, including arsenic, mercury, and chromium. Regulations on what leaves smokestacks have shifted contamination from air to water.

His use of the word "untreated" is accurate, and it goes to the core of this issue. Utilities can get away with this because such toxic waste is said to be "contained". Then again, utilities say a lot of things that don't hold up under scrutiny:

It’s monitored. In addition to monitoring ash basin water, Duke Energy scientists monitor lake health as a whole. Trace metals routinely comply with state surface water quality standards in Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie. These conservative standards are designed to protect public health and the environment. In many cases, trace metals are at the lowest amounts laboratory instruments can accurately measure. Water quality and aquatic life remain well protected, and local drinking water supplies are safe.

If our testing were to show any indication that neighbors’ groundwater was being impacted by the onsite storage of coal ash, we would work with local health officials and state regulators to address and resolve the problem.

Back to Sam for a quick refutation of that claim:

On Mountain Island Lake, four surface water tests performed by the county since May 2010 – including this past May – have revealed arsenic at 1.8 to 3.5 times the EPA maximum contaminant level.

As usual, when industry is forced to argue their position in a public forum, they parse words and try to sell the idea they work hand-in-hand with regulators to achieve the public good:

The company voluntarily monitored groundwater around North Carolina ash basins with state regulatory oversight for several years, and that program recently got more intensive.

But if you scroll down this page to the DWQ document, you'll find:

In December 2009, DWQ sent a letter to the 14 coal-fired power plants directing them to place wells at their Compliance Boundaries to help determine if any groundwater exceedances exist.

I'm pretty sure following a "directive" doesn't fit with what most of us would consider "voluntary", but whether Duke was being intentionally deceptive with that will be left up to you, the reader. And while you're pondering that, ponder this:

But don’t just take our word for it. State regulators review surface and groundwater data submitted on a regular basis and routinely inspect all coal ash storage facilities.

Actually, I am going to take your word for it. But not those words, some other words you've written.

The EPA provides an extensive archive of reports and communications dealing with Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR), and since it would take a month of Sundays to cover just the NC coal ash situation, we'll look at Lake Wylie, which (among other things) services Duke's Allen Steam Plant. From an EPA Q&A:

When did a State or a Federal regulatory official last inspect or evaluate the safety (structural integrity) of the management units? If you are aware of a planned state or federal inspection or evaluation in the future, when is it expected to occur? Please identify the Federal or State regulatory agency or department which conducted or is planning the inspection or evaluation. Please provide a copy of the most recent official inspection report or evaluation.

DEC is not aware of any federal or state agency inspection reports. It is a North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUe) requirement from 1976 to have an inspection performed every 5 years by an independent consultant who uses a qualified licensed professional engineer. The last such inspection occurred in December, 2007. The next such inspection will occur in 2012.

Apparently in Duke Energy's lexicon, the term "routinely" actually means "never". Which leads me to the final statement from Duke's "Environmental Services" VP:

Other recent opinions are from advocacy groups that, bottom line, wish to stop coal as an energy source. Let’s spend less time using sensationalized sound bites and more time applying any appropriate new regulations.

Your arrogance is breathtaking. I've read hundreds of reports and back-and-forth correspondences between Duke Energy and the EPA/DENR/DWQ/DAQ, and a few common threads are apparent:

a) You continually play each agency off the other(s), insinuating that whichever one is asking you questions at the time doesn't have jurisdiction or is acting redundantly. As such, whatever answers you deign to give them are cursory at best and often downright dismissive.

b) Whatever recommendations/advisories/directives are given to you, the first thing you do is shuffle some papers around to see if whatever (minimal) steps you've already taken can be applied to fit what the agency wants you to do now, even if the two are barely related and produce no new results.

It's just that intractable and intransigent behavior that makes groups like the Waterkeeper Alliance so important. They're willing to do the work that you won't do, and the reason you won't do it is because that work exposes the facade of false concern for public safety you've constructed.

You may not want them around, but we do.


Jim Rogers

This is one of the grand paradoxes of Jim Rogers. He talks a mean game about looking forward and sustainable systems, but when push comes to shove ... and it always does ... he stands 1000% behind the interest of Duke Energy shareholders, Duke Energy propaganda, and Duke Energy's insatiable appetite for more and bigger.

Somewhere along the way, the guy looked in the mirror and declared that it is okay to be a environmental predator as long as you talk like you're not.

When I think about the potential that guys like Rogers have to actually make a difference in our world ... and how casually they sell their souls and the futures of their grandchildren ... it moves me from sad to angry in the blink of an eye.

Shareholder interest

Every one of those shareholders should be concerned that they're financially responsible should another coal ash tragedy happen here like the one in Tennessee, and they (as well as Jim Rogers) should be furious at their own engineers for the casual disregard they show towards preventing such.


His insistence we will drill/frack our way to lots of jobs and low gas prices is very suspect.All petroleum is sold on the international market and our estimated 5 yr. max. supply of natural gas sold on a glutted market won't do much other than make life miserable for those living within miles of the sites due to odors and noise. His ad about jobs and 4 dollar gas is targeted at the uneducated. Oil/gas companies bring in their own people for the few hundred specialized jobs, they generally don't hire much locally. I know because I lived in La. and had friends in the business. Gas at the pump costs about the same in texas and la. as it does here at the pump. Go to the ocean in these states where there are rigs and it has always looked/smelled like after the deep water horizon spill.He is certainly being paid by someone to push this as his only solution to our problems.