How Gov McCrory And Dirty Energy Just Screwed Over NC’s Dan River

Gov McCrory's Ex-Employer Got A Sweetheart Deal And Now They've Destroyed A NC River

North Carolina’s governor’s former employer’s deal is causing massive coal pollution in the state.

On Monday, North Carolina became the latest state to find itself in the midst of a coal-produced crisis, although not for the first time. A coal ash pond began leaking sludge into the nearby Dan River. That means 27 million gallons of contaminated water mixed together with 82,000 tons of coal ash before rushing to the river. The sludge was being stored in an earthen 27-acre pond by Duke Energy, the United States’ largest electric power holding company.

Coal ash is a toxic stew of chemicals that can’t be disposed of.

Coal ash is what is left after coal is burned for energy. What remains is a veritable stew of toxic chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and selenium that can’t be safely discarded. So the brew is kept sitting somewhere, in this case in terribly inadequate conditions. Wet, unsealed earth, of which this pond was made, continually leaks the toxins it contains into the ground below. Last Monday, the contamination made a big break for freedom. A pipe underneath the pond broke and sent the poisonous sludge pouring into the river alongside it.

As of late Friday, Duke Energy had been unable to stop the flow. It had slowed considerably, due to the volume that already drained into the river, but the pipe remained unrepaired. So on Saturday, the company did what was demanded of it. President of North Carolina operations, Paul Newton, said, “We apologize.” He promised to clean up the river and be held accountable by the surrounding communities.

How are the residents of those communities supposed to measure Newton’s words of regret and promises of accountability against the reality of how Duke Energy operates? First of all, the leak was actually noticed on Sunday afternoon, but not reported until Monday evening. Second, the company is the only one of the state’s major energy companies to continue holding coal sludge in unlined ponds. The others have moved the contents of all their ponds to sealed storage facilities. Third, Duke has at least 13 other unsealed coal ash ponds in NC from former coal-burning plants that have been shut down in favor of new natural-gas ones. Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station was closed in 2012, but there was no plan for it to be cleaned up, nor does there seem to be a plan to address the other 13 sludge ponds.

Gov McCrory Virtually Gave Duke Energy Permission To Pollute The River.

The irresponsibility and sleight-of-hand are very reminiscent of West Virginia’s chemical spill last month, which still lingers as a problem in the water there. As an incidental to the issue of long-term responsibility, North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, retired from Duke Energy in 2008, after a 29-year career with the company. McCrory assumed office in January, 2013. One of his first major ‘achievements’ was to cut a deal with Duke Energy last July that basically gave the company a free pass for past pollution and allowed it to continue letting contaminants leach into the soil for as long as it likes. Every citizen of the state ought to sit up and pay attention to the details.

Tuesday, after the leak was announced, the nonprofit group Appalachian Voices began monitoring the river. The spill wasn’t unique, but may be one of the largest in the state’s history. The contaminants are serious business.  Volunteers were pulling up 6 to 12 inches of sludge in buckets. Matt Wasson, president of programs for Appalachian Voices, noted that, “Someone once said coal ash contains most of the periodic table. It’s dangerous.”

At the end of the week, various organizations were still disputing the safety of the water for drinking. However, heavy metals tend to sink to the bottom of the river and settle there. It’s possible the threat to the drinking water won’t continue because of that settling. Also, drinking water is filtered by a water treatment plant before being passed on to the consumer.

The danger goes way beyond the water.

But Appalachian Voices is concerned with a more extended danger — the danger to the whole ecosystem. With all those toxins at the bottom of the river, what will happen to the river wildlife that feeds there? And then to the food chain as it works its way up?

North Carolinians may soon get the go ahead to drink the water, but there’s one caveat. Don’t eat the fish. Or anything that eats the fish. Or anything that … you get the idea. It’s called interdependence. Duke Energy just threw a very big monkey wrench into Mother Nature’s works.